Based on the diary of a survivor, In the Crosswind tells the story of Baltic state residences from Estonia, Lativa and Lithuania who were rounded up starting in June 1941 and transported by train north to Siberian camps facing a very uncertain future and with a great likelihood of never seeing their homeland again.
Our narrator is Erna (Laura Peterson) who is enjoying her beautiful home life with her husband and daughter. Then on June 14, 1941, Russian troops show up, force the whole neighbourhood out of their homes, into trucks, then eventually boxcars for the ride north to Siberia. In a clearing before they are loaded into the cars the men are separated from the women and children then prepared for transport.
Erna's letters serve as the script of the film. She writes to her husband Heldur describing every event of her journey. Starting from the first rolling sounds of the cattle cars, events aboard the 26 day journey by train, scarcity of food, plus detailed descriptions of the weak, sick and dying. The four day trip by boat that followed and the reality of the bleakness of their new home.
The real achievement in this project is the style of film making. Just about all the scenes in the camp are presented in stop motion. The actors are fixed portraying the act described in Erna's letter as the camera moves around them and the landscape highlighting the key points in brilliant monochrome. Director Martti Helde weaves the camera thorough the players like a snake slithering hither and yon up and down and into the darkest corners of the camp where the harshest reality lay.
The women and children face all manner of abuse; psychological, physical, sexual, emotional, starvation and for far too may the ultimate fate of death. They have to do whats need to survive and obtain the basics such as bread for themselves and children. All the while Helde's lens captures the story and emotion from the letters presenting each chapter as a richly painted tapestry.
As the weeks, months and seasons go by Erna's letters to her husband always starting with his name giver her hope to one day to see him again in their homeland. A well appointed landmark to mark the passage of time is the announcement of Stalin's 1953 death which lead to a relaxing of some of the harder conditions and gave the labourers increased hope that they may return home. No matter how horrific the subject personally or to the group Peterson delivers the content of the letters in an even voice of an outside observer viewing the events from a distance as opposed to the reality of being in the camp experiencing the events first hand.
In the Crosswind is a unique portrayal of a lesser known significant historical event. It is very timely today given the events occurring in modern day Ukrane and fairly recent events in the modern balk in states. The film is visually stunning, emotionally wrenching and one that I can highly recommend.
**** Out of 4.
In the Crosswind | Martti Helde | Estonia | 2014 | 90 Minutes.
Tags : Estonia, Siberia, World Ward II, Deportation, Ethnic Cleansing, Labour Camp, Starvation, Death, Stalin.