Sunday 14 September 2014

Ballad of a Soldier [1959]

Chukhrai’s Ballad of a Soldier is often clubbed with Kalatozov’s The Cranes are Flying as companion pieces not only because the 2 Russian films had strong anti-war stances, deeply humanist tones, deftly lyrical storytelling and primarily focused on personal tales, but also because both, released 2 years of one another, became smashing international successes in the art-house circles. Alexei (Vladimir Ivashov), the film’s 19-year old protagonist and a soldier deployed on the Eastern Front during WWII, suddenly gets elevated to the stature of a hero when he, out of a mix of luck and fear, ends up single-handedly destroying 2 German tanks. As a reward he gets the unlikely leave of 6 days in order to visit his mother and repair the house’s roof. However, as it eventually turns out, the naïve young guy, as a result of his inherent goodness, ends up spending most of his limited travel time indulging in humanist luxuries – accompanying a crippled and embittered veteran who’s afraid to go back to his wife, ensuring the precious gift of 2 soap cakes get delivered to a fellow-soldier’s impoverished family, helping other passengers when the train they’re traveling in gets bombed, and most notably, falling in love with the beautiful and callow fellow-traveler Shura (Zhanna Prokhorenko). As a result of all these unplanned delays, at the end he has just enough time to see his mother for a few minutes before getting back to the front never to return. Filled with the little joys and sadness of everyday life, beautifully shot in glorious B/W, and shorn of formal or political indulgences, it provided a heart-warming meditation on the horrors and devastation of war through the eventful odyssey.

Director: Grigori Chukhrai
Genre: Drama/War Drama
Language: Russian
Country: Russia (erstwhile Soviet Union)

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