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Ashes in the Snow
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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Ashes in the Snow is a WWII drama based on Ruta Sepetys' young adult novel Between Shades of Gray. Bel Powley stars as a young Lithuanian girl whose family is taken prisoner by Stalinist forces and imprisoned in a Siberian labor camp. The film's violence, which is very realistic and usually victimizing the innocent, is very upsetting. Babies, parents, older people, and other defenseless people are all rounded up by soldiers with guns and taken to the camp, where some of them are shot point-blank by soldiers (viewers see the bodies slump over and hear the noise but don't see gore). One character dies via suicide; viewers see his body hanging from the ceiling. Men leer and and try to grab women and teen girls (who are forced to bathe in groups); one man gropes and kisses a woman and threatens to rape her. Two characters share a flirtation and a kiss; nonsexual nudity includes breasts and buttocks. Language is infrequent but includes "pr--k," "bitch," and "hell." Many characters smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol at dinner or to toast successes. This drama can be grim, but it also has clear themes of courage, perseverance, and compassion.
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What's the story?
Based on the best-selling novel Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, ASHES IN THE SNOW is set in Eastern Europe during World War II, where Stalinist forces are determined to wipe out the residents of the Baltic states. Ripped from her comfortable life in Lithuania, budding artist Lina (Bel Powley) is sent to a Siberian labor camp with her mother (Lisa Loven Kongsli) and younger brother (Tom Sweet). Her beloved father's fate? Unknown. Lina can capture the essence of their terrible experiences at the camp in her artwork -- but with her compatriots being wiped out in a terrible genocide, have Stalin's soldiers imprisoned her spirit?
Is it any good?
Beautiful scenery and powerful actors bring Sepetys' book to life, with much of the plot (including its brutal violence) intact in this painful, emotional adaptation. Many of Ashes in the Snow's story beats will seem familiar to viewers who've watched a Holocaust drama (and certainly those who've read the source novel): Lina's early life seems like a dream of contentment, with comfort, a loving family, a fancy car, flirtatious boys. But after the soldiers' nighttime visit, there's no more sunshine, no more ease. There are only beets and dirt and cold and sudden bullets, a family ripped apart, a bleak future.
Powley's huge eyes communicate Lina's bottomless pain, and Kongsli is terrific as her steadfast, principled mother. Martin Wallström is also effective as the tortured Kretzsky, a half-Ukrainian soldier who knows he's being pushed into doing the terrible things he must do to rise in Stalin's army -- but does them anyway. Nothing comes easy for these characters, and that makes the film not very easy to watch. But as a document of WWII horrors that are far less well-known than the Holocaust, Ashes in the Snow is an invaluable document that illuminates a terrible period in world history.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Ashes' scenes of violence. Are they necessary to the story? Do they make more of an impact because of their relative infrequence? Why or why not? Do different types of violence affect kids differently?
What upset you in Ashes in the Snow? Why? Were there any surprises? Did you learn anything new about this historical period and how it affected those who lived through it?
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