By NOEL MURRAY
Based on Ruta Sepetys’ 2011 bestseller “Between Shades of Gray,” the historical drama “Ashes in the Snow” reopens a chapter of World War II largely overshadowed by other atrocities: The Soviet Union’s violent annexation of the Baltic states. The soldiers are wearing the uniforms of the Red Army instead of Nazi Germany, but there’s a familiar grimness to this story of human exploitation and forced labor camps.
Bel Powley stars as Lina, a young woman who is deported from her home in Lithuania along with her family, by soldiers who force them to work in the Siberian fields. There, they adjust to the harsh conditions, finding ways to experience the usual cycles of life amid abject misery.
Powley is very good as Lina, with her eyes taking on a different cast, pre- and post-deportation. Her lids droop, and the light dims when she’s in the camp, except when she’s escaping into her art or spending time with a handsome fellow prisoner, Andrius (Jonah Hauer-King).
Director Marius A. Markevicius and screenwriter Ben York Jones fail to find much of a fresh angle on genocide and widespread cruelty. Like many filmmakers faced with such a serious subject, they favor respectful sobriety over anything that smacks of tawdry (and entertaining) melodrama.
Bu also like their predecessors, Markevicius and Jones find meaning in the small moments of humanity within the horrors of war — those times when the oppressed and even the oppressors get a chance, just for a little while, to be people.