The Invisible Front Dir. Jonas Ohman, Vincas Sruoginis

[; 2014]

Styles: historical documentary
Others: The War (Ken Burns), Scorched Earth, Quiltmakers of Gee’s Bend

To contemporary audiences, the idea of the historical documentary film may likely evoke associations of dryness or inaccessibility to those without pre-existing knowledge and vested interest. Information is aggregated at different rates from a variety of media sources; the notion of sitting down and watching a documentary in its entirely is certainly not conducive to the average contemporary attention span. The Invisible Front (directed by Jonas Ohman and Vincent Sruginis and written by Mark Johnston) is a film that represents a break from the stigmas surrounding documentary cinema, through its dynamism and aesthetic.

The film chronicles the legacy of the Forest Brothers, a contingent of the Lithuanian Resistance Front, who acted in opposition to the bloodstained regime exerted by the Soviet forces during the 1940s (and extending to the 1990s); the majority were young students with little or no resources or training in the way of guerrilla tactics and warfare. The tribulations of the Forest Brothers are related specifically in terms of the short and tumultuous life of one its iconic members, Juozas Lukša. A journalist and architecture student, Lukša committed his spirit and work towards the Lithuanian partisanship unilaterally through his efforts, which were ultimately ill-fated (albeit valiant).

In 1947, Lukša broke past the Iron Curtain in order to disseminate knowledge of atrocities against the Baltic states, to facilitate support from the West. During his time in Paris, he became enamored with his fellow partisan Nijole Brazenaite, and a whirlwind romance commenced amidst the tension of its surrounding circumstances, followed by engagement and marriage. However, Lukša was preoccupied with the idea of returning to his compatriots in Lithuania. Lukša was contracted by the CIA to further intelligence efforts in Baltic states, and was eventually airdropped into Lithuania. He was betrayed by a fellow partisan shortly thereafter and fatally so (his betrayer is interviewed later in the film).

Lukša’s story is here culled primarily from his written accounts and memoir. The series of extensive and compelling interviews interwoven throughout the entire documentary adds dimension and complexity, from Lukša’s widow Brazenaite, to a multitude of the living Forest Brothers, to former Soviets who pursued him, to his betrayer (perhaps the film’s most jarring moment). The chilling accounts are punctuated by gunfire and strikingly aged footage of the forests and marshes through which the Lithuanian partisans navigated in their pursuit of freedom. Exquisitely interlaced with these accounts are documents, letters, and stunning photographs, all supplementing and complicating the factual events. Olafur Arnalds’s heady original score occasionally borders on melodramatic; but appropriately so, in tandem with the pathos of the narrative.

The Invisible Front presents itself as a love story, but its scope is much wider; it is thematically resonant with the detentes, broken alliances, and and double-crossing between nations which all exist to this day. While the relationship between Lukša’s and Brazenaite is certainly emotionally engaging, the film should accord itself more credit; it encompasses many other individuals, locations, and objects, as well as their detailed histories, which all build a nuanced framework for and fluent understanding of the the events that took place.

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