Issue 58 (2017)

Aleksandr Kasatkin: Three Days until Spring (Tri dnia do vesny, 2017)

reviewed by Åsne Ø. Høgetveit© 2017

tri dnya do vesnyThree Days until Spring is the fourth full-length film by the director Aleksandr Kasatkin. Since his debut with Listening to Silence (2007, reviewed in KinoKultura 21 by Alissa Timoshkina), he has worked with full-length cinema, TV series and mini-series. Three days until spring was released upon the 72nd commemoration of Victory Day in May 2017, and was awarded the title Best Crime Film at the international film and television festival DetectiveFEST in Moscow. The film is also the first in a planned trilogy about Leningrad during the siege, by Lenfilm studios.

The action takes place in the spring of 1942, when the Nazis have developed a plan to use biological weapons to finally crush Leningrad. The disease, a form of bubonic plague, is prevented from spreading due to cold temperatures. But spring is fast approaching. In fact our heroes only have three days to find the containers with biological weapons, collaborators who help the Nazis to deploy them, and prevent this catastrophe of hitting the already tormented and tried Leningrad population.

tri dnya do vesnyThe main heroes of the film are the NKVD officer Andreev (Kirill Pletnev) and the doctor Olga Maritskaia (Elena Lotova). He is an intelligent, reasonable and efficient investigator, who is scarred by the loss of his family (a wife and son who died at the beginning of the war). She is an even more intelligent, idealistic woman, who will gladly sacrifice herself for truth and justice. This is emphasized by the red scarf that Maritskaia wears for most of the film, clearly meant to evoke the image of “The Motherland Calls” (Rodina zovet) poster. The red color of the scarf vividly stands out among the overwhelming shades of blue, brown, grey and snow-white that dominate the rest of the film.

In addition to the two heroes, there are the familiar types of a good boss, a geeky sidekick (of Andreev), a bad NKVD officer (who is convinced that Maritskaia is a spy, or at least an enemy of the people, owing to her family history), a bad and weak traitor, and a sick child. By now Russian audiences are accustomed to presentations of the Soviet past in which representatives of the authorities can be both good and bad, and characters officially regarded enemies of the people (especially those descending from the Civil War’s Whites) can be just as good and patriotic on Russia’s behalf. In the end, the heroes save the day and find each other in a moving scene with St Isaac’s Cathedral in the background.

tri dnya do vesnyIt should come as no surprise that this is an action-, not character-driven, film, and Kasatkin has chosen to stay true to genre conventions. There are almost no surprises here (down to the detail that the traitor is revealed due to a marked matchbox that shows up in a place it was not supposed to be). It could be said that there is an element of surprise and ingenuity in the title: spring is usually something one looks forward to, but in this film spring harbors a potential disaster. Maritskaia is introduced to the audience when she is conducting a physical inspection of a young man. He complains about a back pain that is making him unfit for military service. Maritskaia clearly suspects this to be a lie, and sets an efficient trap. When the man thinks no one is looking, he bends over, seemingly without any pain or trouble, to pick up the ration card Maritskaia has “accidentally” dropped on the floor. However, Maritskaia has been watching the whole time and the liar is exposed.

This is a sequence representative of the film, showing how creative, intelligent and attentive to details the doctor is, but also demonstrating her more compassionate side (rather than reporting the man to the authorities, she simply throws him out of her office). It is too bad that the same attention to detail has not been given to the story itself, as there are several threads of the plot that get tied up in an overly quick and unsatisfactory way. This is true for how the traitor is found (mentioned above) and in how Maritskaia in the end escapes from the bad NKVD officer: a bomb hits him while he is in the process of arresting her.

tri dnya do vesnyHowever, Three Days until Spring has clear ambitions to be more than just a somewhat predictable wartime crime-fiction. The first sequence of the film is a re-enactment of a radio broadcast with the legendary Leningrad poet Ol’ga Berggol’ts reciting the poem ”February Diary” (1942), accompanied by an orchestra playing a piece by Dmitrii Shostakovich. Kasatkin commented that they wished to set a particular tone for the film, and therefore added this sequence, although it was not in the original script. Further, Kasatkin noted that he did not wish to make a simple entertainment, or a detective story, out of the serious and important siege of Leningrad. And indeed both music, which was specially written by Anton Lubchenko and recorded by the Mariinskii orchestra, and several sequences showing the city, are well composed and striking by themselves, in particular the scenes in which the camera glides through the streets and shows death, struggle and apathy. This is also to say that there is no doubt great skill has been put into this film on the technical level. The departure point of the plot is also worth lingering on, as the threat of epidemics and biological warfare rarely receives attention from filmmakers when war films are made, although epidemics are known as one of the largest threats against civilians in war time (the current estimate for the number of civilians killed by either war-related famine or diseases in the USSR during World War II is 4,100,000). However, there is no evidence suggesting the Nazis ever deployed biological weapons, on the contrary the historical research into this suggest that they never seriously considered using them. This makes one question why the filmmakers felt the need to invent this dramatic story, as if the drama and trauma surrounding the siege of Leningrad was not enough in itself.

Another interesting aspect of Three Days until Spring is how seemingly important the authenticity of the film is when it comes to presenting Leningrad during the siege. This is done by highlighting in the media how this is a Lenfilm production, that the studio has a special kind of “ownership” of the history, and that some of the key contributors themselves are descendants of the siege survivors (in fact, Kasatkin’s grandparents worked on preventing epidemics in Leningrad during the war). But this claim to authenticity is also made by insisting that the film does not exploit the collective memory of the Leningrad siege in a disrespectful way (suggesting that this is an evident trap to fall in when making war films): this is not supposed to be a blockbuster.

Unfortunately the weak plot of the film disturbs the impression of an authentic presentation, and the insistence on the historical integrity of the film first of all seems like a PR strategy. However, it will be interesting to see how the rest of the trilogy turns out.

Åsne Ø. Høgetveit
The Arctic University of Norway

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Works Cited

Anon. 2017. “Lenfil'm planiruet tsikl istoricheskikh kartin.”, 11 April.

Barieva, Liliia. 2017. “BlokAda.” 12 April.

Frischknecht, Friedrich. 2003. “The history of biological warfare.” EMBO Reports 4: 47-52. 

Korrespondent, 2017. “Aleksandr Kasatkin: ‘Ia blagodaren sud'be, chto stsenarii ‘Trekh dnei do vesny’ popal mne v ruki.”. ProfiCinema 27 March.

Manzhula, Kristina. 2017. “‘Tri dnia do vesny’ – vozrozhdenie starykh traditsii ‘Lenfil'ma’.” ProfiCinema 12 April.

Timoshkina, Alissa. 2008. “Aleksandr Kasatkin: Listening to Silence (Slushaia tishinu, 2007).” KinoKultura 21.

Three Days until Spring, Russia 2017
Color, 100 min
Director Aleksandr Kasatkin
Screenwriter Arkadii Vysotskii
Cinematographer Ruslan Gerasimenkov
Composer Anton Lubchenko
Producer Eduard Pichugin
Production: Lenfilm

Aleksandr Kasatkin: Three Days until Spring (Tri dnia do vesny, 2017)

reviewed by Åsne Ø. Høgetveit© 2017

Updated: 2017 07 Oct 17