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Russia on the eve of the Winter War with Finland, and for the young and awkward Mashenka, life is work, and work is life. By day at the telegraph office a relentless stream of demanding customers, and then by night, study at home, alone. A future escape and a chance for something more. She listens to the romantic escapades of her co-workers Klava and Vera, and can only wish that one day her turn might come: that a man may say that he finds her pretty.
Then one night.
An evening air-raid drill sees her miss the last trolley-car, and so she is forced to catch a taxi to her home on the edge of town. Alyesha, the dashing driver, is an amiable sort of character, with a chivalry which ensures that, even though her meagre funds run out with some distance yet to go, he will still take her to her door.
A shooting star. Above us Andromeda. Masha, will you meet me tomorrow night in town, beneath the clock?
In beatific innocence then, yes. Please, may it now be my turn?
And so under the clock: Alyesha, where are you? Hours. I should have known it is not yet my turn.
But all is not lost, for Masha soon learns that in reality Alyesha has been struck down by a fever and is struggling to recuperate in the men's dormitory at the garage where he works. So an utterly selfless opportunity presents itself: she will now watch over him and nurse him back to health while sitting at the table by his bedside, studying. To show him my devotion.
Once recovered, it is obvious though that Alyesha cannot commit himself. Indebted yes, but there are still friends with whom to drink and rove, and an opportunity presents itself far away, where streets are paved with gold. This is now his chance to better himself and make good. Initial anger and frustration at the impending separation turns to resignation and acceptance. Time enough then. I will wait.
And after this time of separation, a triumphal return. A celebration. Mashenka, fellow workers and friends. Then enter the worldly-wise Vera.
While it is more a matter of naïveté, unfortunate coincidence and misunderstanding than something inherently rapacious on Vera's part (though that satin dress was sure going to turn heads in the worker's paradise, baby), most everyone else seems to feel that Alyesha has become somewhat distracted. The hopelessly devoted Mashenka, not appreciating the purity of her own inner beauty (or Alyesha's breathtaking stupidity) feels confirmed in her despondency that no, it is just not her time for love, yet again.
The war. The world has turned. The chance meeting in the transit camp.
Mashenka the now field medical officer. Alyesha the recuperating tank crewman. The spark reignited. The self-consciousness. The things unsaid. The sudden call for her to leave before he can tell her. The written note pinned to the wall in the hope that it will be read.
Equal parts tiny jewel of a love story and call to arms, this is a whimsically lyrical and most beautiful film. While one of countless variations on the theme of love and loss in wartime, it is nonetheless, especially through the utterly beguiling portrayal of innocence and stoicism by Valentina Karaveyeva as Mashenka Masha a rare and transcendent Russian treat.
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