Enemy at the Gates presents a look at famed World War II, Russian sniper, Vasilii Zaitsev in the context of the Battle of Stalingrad. The film focuses on the fighting in Stalingrad and the sheer destruction it caused, Zaitsev’s rise as a national hero to the Russians, his sniper duels with German Major Erwin König, his friendship with Lieutenant Commisar Danilov and both men’s love interest in a local woman, Tania, who is a member of the local militia.
The film is written and directed by France’s Jean-Jacques Annaud, who is known for a number of other works such as Quest for Fire, The Name of the Rose and Seven Years in Tibet. What is relevant about the film is its portrayal of the ferocity of the Battle of Stalingrad and how this was truly an example of urban warfare. Soldiers from both sides, civilians, militia and even children were a part of the entire quagmire of Stalingrad. The movie does well to portray the horrors of war, which is clear from the reviews of the film, such as a review at Rotten Tomatoes, that states the film is “atmospheric and thrilling, Enemy at the Gates gets the look and feel of war right.”
While the film was received fairly well in the United States, in Russia and Germany it was far less received. In Russia, veterans of the Battle of Stalingrad moved to have the movie banned as the felt the movie was “denigrating the value of the defenders of the city in a key battle of World War II.”
The overall look and feel of the film is well done. The costumes, settings of the battles, and the intensity of the scenes all provided a real-world feel to the events as they transpired. The film also did well in portraying the cause of the Russians just over that of the Germans while still given you a sense of admiration for König. The battle scenes were loud as to attempt to put the viewer in the frame of mind of the soldiers fighting, but there were some instances where the dialogue was lost in the battles and without subtitles, would be difficult to decipher.
In terms of historical accuracy this is where the film appears to drop off in lieu of entertainment value. Associate professor of history at Texas A&M University, Robert Reese explained that while there were shortcomings in the film, as well as points of blurriness, some of the principles were indeed accurate. This was to include how the men were thrown into battle with no training, that snipers were regularly employed in large numbers by both men and women, and that romantic engagements between men and women in the battle did indeed occur.But he also points out it gets things wrong, included having Nikita Khrushchev in charge of the battle at the front, the lack of military chain of command in the film, and the lack of female snipers in the film who in the war were credited with over 10,000 kills.
Most importantly is the central theme of the film; the dueling between Zaitsev and König. However, this is where history becomes muddled. Zaitsev claimed he indeed dueled with König and that there is a memorial in Russia that has König alleged telescopic rifle sight on display that reads “Major König, head of Berlin Central Snipers School and Olympic shooting champion of 1936. A real gun that was never fired by a fantasy figure in charge of a school that never existed and a gold medalist in an Olympics he never competed in.” But there is the history of Russia altering its records to portray them in a better light, as well as Nazi Germany destroying historical data that would present them in a bad light, so the truth is somewhere between the two.
Overall, the film is good entertainment with some good examples of the ferocity of the fighting in Stalingrad as well as presenting to the world a Russian hero who did indeed actually exist.
Pat Mills from East Chicago, Indiana on December 10, 2015:
Anyone who wants a "true" story should watch a documentary. Film studios will embellish for the sake of a movie that will draw viewers.