ENEMY AT THE GATES
About The Story
Six years ago writer Alain Godard came to director Jean-Jacques Annaud with an account he had read in William Craig's book Enemy at the Gates about a famous duel between a young Russian shepherd and a German nobleman during the Battle for Stalingrad. To get to the heart of the story, Annaud and Godard began a journey of research that took them to Stalingrad -- now named Volgograd -- where they were given access to the original files of Vassili Zaitsev, the young Russian.
Accounts vary about the legend that grew up around Zaitsev — his duel with a German sniper, the existence of a Major
Konig, his love affair with a female soldier. The confrontation was reported in a large number of news articles and broadcast, but every description is different, and it is impossible to distinguish between fact and poetic license, between the reality and the myth. Nearly 60 years after the Battle for
Stalingrad, however, Zaitsev remains a national hero whose skill and courage as a sniper are indisputable. His image dominates the giant bas-relief on the Memorial to the Heroes of the Battle of Stalingrad in
Volgograd, his rifle is preserved in the
city's Historical Museum, and the trophy of his victory — his German adversary's telescopic sight
— is on display in the Armed Forces Museum in Moscow.
"Vassili," says Annaud, "was the perfect hero. He became a focus of propaganda and was said to have fallen in love with a female soldier in his division. The character of Konig, the German
sharpshooter, is also heavily described in the Russian propaganda, although we found no documentation in Germany."
With the duel as the core. Annaud and Godard created a story about a group of people whose lives are intertwined for a brief moment in history.
"We have taken a historical event and tried to understand what happened in the hearts of people who lived through it," Annaud says.
"We know about some of these characters from the archives and newsreel footage: the rest is open to interpretation.
This is what made this story so fascinating and appealing.
"Enemy at the Gates is a film about duels and duality, about contrasts and extremes. The event is
miniscule, but the propaganda makes it extremely important. Two individuals track each other in the midst of millions who are dying, but the focus is on these two. The smallest part is only one little piece of the large canvas, but it consequently becomes the central symbol of the whole.
"I was very drawn to the idea of going from the extreme close-up to the extreme wide angle, of swapping the microscope for the telescope, of making an intimate film at the heart of a battle of epic proportions. of dealing with the art of patience in the context of extreme urgency, of seeing madness becoming the norm and everyday, mundane feelings taking the lead in extraordinary situations."
A major element of Enemy at the Gates is the love story between Vassili and Tania, a female soldier played by Rachel
Weisz, and the resulting jealousy felt by Danilov. The character
is based on a real Tania, who fought as a soldier at Stalingrad and did, in fact, fall in love with Vassili. The role underscores the indispensable contributions of Soviet women in the war. Antiaircraft batteries at Stalingrad were operated by young women volunteers, who turned their guns against German ground forces and suffered terrible losses. Women composed a bomber regiment operating on the Stalingrad front. They also made up the bulk of the medical orderlies. who fought the enemy while repeatedly risking their lives to drag wounded soldiers to safety. In addition, tens of thousands of women worked in the factories making weapons and all the other goods needed for the war effort.
For the role of Vassili, Annaud chose Jude Law, a young actor who was soon to make such an impression with his Academy Aw
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