14 June 2003 | SgtSlaughter
Decent Yugoslav war drama
Made in the mid-70s, GUNS OF WAR is one of a slew of Yugoslav-made war movies highlighting the heroics the Yugoslav "Partisans", every day citizens which took up arms to repel the German invaders. It's a pretty average movie, with some decent action sequences and some great scenery to help the proceedings along.
In 1941, a band of Yugoslav Partisans rose up in the Uzice Province and managed to keep the land free from German rule for 67 Days, until the Wehrmacht, Luftwaffe, Panzers and Chetniks managed to drive the people out.
Unlike most Yugoslav war dramas, such as HELL RIVER and BATTLE OF THE EAGLES, this film has a political focus rather than an action-oriented plot. It shows the unity between the Partisans and Royalist Chetniks and gradual breakup of the alliance when the Chetniks decide to the aide the Germans to stop the spread of Communism, rather than defend their homeland. This often pitted friends against friends; many Chetniks and Partisans grew up as best friends and were torn by political ideals, much like the "brother against brother" example of the American Civil War.
The movie features some pretty spectacular action scenes, set in a variety of locales. Some are small squad-size ambushes; others, mass cavalry charges a la the finale in THE BATTLE OF NERETVA; and finally, a huge German assault on central Uzice involving dozens of vintage tanks, planes, and hundreds of extras (not to mention some awesome explosions).
The movie also features some familiar sets and the typically stunning Yugoslav countryside. One scene of Germans and Chetniks marching through the snow feels chilling but still manages to look beautiful. The musical score is appropriately haunting and adds to the bleak atmosphere.
The Yugoslav cast does a pretty good job, portraying the values of Communism (uggh., one point I don't personally agree with, but its Yugoslav movie from the 70s so a pro-Communist point of view is to be expected) to the core. Each actor is believable in their role and make the plight of the Partisans in Uzice, fighting despite overwhelming odds, seem completely real. Every character is a human being stuck in a situation they'd rather not be in but must do their part if they want to survive.
Despite all this, GUNS OF WAR is not much more than an average war drama. It's got lots going for it, but also has several strong strikes working against it. The first is a lack of recognizable actors. While watching European war films, I'm always able to spot at least a few familiar native actors; Yugoslav epics usually have quite a few familiar co-stars among the ensemble, as well as international stars to draw audiences from around the world. GUNS OF WAR only features two recognizable actors: Rade Serbedzija from THE FIFTH DAY OF PEACE plays the Chetnik Major; and Karl Mohner (SINK THE BISMARCK!) is a German General.
The movie also features a number of decent-looking scenes of massacres or briefings with narration, often switching over to "documentary" footage showing the real events the scene is based on. Well, it's obviously not really documentary footage - just grainy, black & white footage of the same actors with badly-dubbed dialog. This technique is unintentionally corny and takes away from the value of every scene in which this it is used.
The American video release is trimmed to a running time of approximately 114 minutes. The movie makes sense, but has a choppy flow and sometimes moves far too quickly. The original cut supposedly runs almost 3 hours. I'd like to see this version, as it should flow better and offer more insight into the events portrayed. Anyway, the American video looks pretty good - colors are intense (kind of pinkish and soft, though) and there is very little print damage. Still, this video is ultra-rare and worth picking up.
GUNS OF WAR is a decent entry in the "Yugoslav Partisan" sub-genre. It's not a perfect movie, but it's not a bad film, either. Plenty of action to keep you satisfied, and lots of interesting politics, but the lack of familiar actors really hurts the outcome.