'The Invisible Front': Film Review

Courtesy of The Invisible Front
The tragic story of a real-life hero fuels this compelling historical documentary

Jonas Ohman and Vincas Sruoginis' documentary recounts the story of Lithuanian freedom fighters battling their Soviet oppressors during World War II

The struggle of the Lithuanians against their Soviet oppressors in the 1940s forms the compelling subject matter of Vincas Sruoginis and Jonas Ohman's documentary — which has no small resonance today due to the current situation in Ukraine. Complete with a charismatic hero and touching love story at its core, The Invisible Front vividly succeeds in bringing this little-known historical saga to light.

When Soviet forces first occupied Lithuania and the Baltic states of Latvia and Estonia in 1940-41, they were met with little resistance. But by the time they invaded again in 1944, enough resentment had built up to spur a resistance movement revolving around a guerilla army of partisans, many of them young students, who became known as the Forest Brothers. Chief among them was the handsome architect Juozas Luksa, who joined along with his three brothers and quickly became a central figure in the fighting.

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Desperate to attract the attention of Western countries to the cause, he escaped to Paris in 1947. There he made contact with the French intelligence agency and eventually the CIA; wrote a memoir, Fighters for Freedom, describing the conflict dubbed "The Invisible Front" by the Soviets; and met fellow resistance fighter Nijole Brazenaite, whom he soon married. Shortly after their wedding, he volunteered to return to his native country to once again take up arms. Eventually, he was betrayed by one of his fellow fighters and executed.

His dramatic story, told through recitations of excerpts from his books (he also wrote The Forest Brothers) and eyewitness accounts from his compatriots and elderly surviving widow, forms the main thrust of the film. Also included are interviews with many figures involved in the struggle — one witness recounts how the women resistance fighters were far more resilient to torture than the men — as well as the current presidents of Lithuania and Latvia, CIA operatives, U.S. government officials and scholars.

Featuring generous amounts of haunting archival footage and photographs, the film is occasionally a bit diffuse in its narrative, straining to convey the complexities of its story with an overabundance of detail. But it ultimately succeeds in its important goal of detailing an occupation that went on for decades, ending only with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Production: Aspectus Memoria
Director: Jonas Ohman, Vincas Sruoginis
Screenwriters: Jonas Uhrnan, Vincas Sruoginis, Mark Johnston
Producer: Mark Johnston
Director of photography: Mark A. Ryan
Editor: Vincas Sruoginis
Composer: Olafur Arnalds

No rating, 87 min.