Friday, September 2, 2011

(Battle of) Sutjeska (1973)

Back at the Tribeca Film Festival I saw a film about the Yugoslavian film industry called Cinema Kommunisto. It was a great deal of fun. I was so impressed that I went out to try and find some of the films. Today I'm going to take a look at one of them.

Sutjeska or in English The Battle of Sutjeska. This film tells the story of Marshall Tito's great victory over the Germans against impossible odds in May of 1943. It stars Richard Burton as Tito.

The copy I have is the edition from Arrow Films which I picked up from Amazon UK. It appears to be a copy of the film from a VHS tape which is from a very worn out print (it seems to be missing about 15 minutes). Considering that almost all Yugoslavian films are orphans now and the fact that other lesser editions cost a fortune I was happy to take what I could get.

The film is a story of the battle and of Tito's part in it. Tito's part appears to have been to stand around, look strong and say inspiring things. He doesn't do a hell of a lot except look good and Burton manages it with great skill. This isn't to sell his performance short, rather it makes clear how some people can be inspiring just by looking strong. The rest of the plot has to do with some cliche war film tropes of brotherhood and self sacrifice for the good of the nation. It's not bad, it just feels like we've been here before...about two hundred times before... which is why I think the film has fallen through the cracks.

The real reason to see the film is the battle scenes which are wonderfully real. Made some thirty odd years ago before it was all computers everything looks as real as it was. Those really are low flying planes, and people really are running through explosions, and that is a cast of thousands advancing on the camera. The film's reason to exist and the reason to watch are these sequences which make up most of the film. Sure they may look kind of quaint to those raised on the unlimited possibilities of computers, but even they must be impressed with sequences like the river fording that goes wrong and send people and horses into the raging river thanks to shelling.I was so blown away I kept wondering if anyone got killed doing it.

If you can track this film down give it a shot. It's not the greatest war film ever made (it's too rah rah and cliche for that), but it is a good one that is made worth watching thanks to some really great battle sequences.

(A note about availability. The DVD from Arrow that I have runs 105 minutes but the run time of the film lists as 126 minutes. The film seems to be dubbed into Italian from Serbo-Croatian with breaks into English. Noodling around I found the film in parts on You Tube but the film isn't subtitled and does appear to have missing sequences. There are other editions out there but seem to be of varying lengths and with and without English subtitles. To me the film was fine in the edition I have.)


  1. This has to be one of the greatest WWII films that no one has ever seen, even in YouTube quality.
    To put Sutjeska in historical context, it is important to know that the Nazis killed 1,000,000 Yugoslavs in WWII, and deployed a military machine in the Balkans comparable to their divisions in Italy in WWII. Tito's Partisans defeated the Nazis with NO air support, and very little Allied help, as Winston Churchill acknowledged at the Tehran Conference.