Few Films On Wartime Survival Have Such A Sense Of Space
Fires burn in the night and we hear the sound of machine guns as figures struggle through a wartime landscape. It is Russia in the last year of its war with Nazi Germany, and the film, Dark Is The Night, was actually shot under the harsh conditions of 1944. A girl who will become the heroine of the story takes shelter in an abandoned, ruined school, she believes her family has all been killed. We follow her (with director Boris Barnet's fluid use of moving camera) into another ruined building, where she identifies herself as Varya, to three Russian crewmen who we later learn crashed their plane in this city and are wanted by the occupying Germans.Their names are Ivan, Lyosha, and Sasha. Later her missing grandmother appears and the two women clean up the place, a man who scurries about like a toady, working for the Germans, advises them that the place is being turned into military headquarters. Varya shelters the pilots and does several things to conceal them from the enemy, such as singing a consoling song to hide any sound, and hanging out linen. She reads Sasha, as he is dying, a letter that he had received which he is unable to see well. A doctor, Orlov, arrives, she asks him for medicine, and later gets some morphine. As three other characters lurk in the darkness, a German commandant, Colonel Betts,played by Barnet himself,warns them about hiding prisoners, and shoots two of them.The citizens are summoned to the arena of an abandoned circus where several of the elders are encouraged to speak about collaborating. Instead an older man courageously urges them not to cooperate, and guns are fired. Both of the men Varya is hiding now decide to get out, one at a time. Her aunt Ulyana also turns up. But a German officer follows her as she moves through the space that we have now become familiar with, to her attic hideout, and when he asks her to remove the hanging linen she shoots him. She and the grandmother then appear before the commandant to answer about what happened to the missing officer. The Germans later arrive in her area to search, this time with a dog, and eventually track her to the attic,where the remaining pilot still is. When the linen comes down again, it appears that Varya has been shot. Explosions in the night follow, we see cannons and tanks with the Russian star advancing, the Germans along with their toady fleeing. Now it is Russians who enter the building. They find Varya, who has survived after all (contrary to the inaccurate plot outline above)and one of the crew she sheltered, recognizing her and embracing her, vows vengeance. This story of wartime resistance may seem similar to anti-Nazi movies made around the same time in Hollywood, but because of the gritty conditions under which it was shot it has a feeling similar to the neo-realist war films of Roberto Rossellini that would be made in Italy also at that time. The evocation of the particular space in which the heroine shelters the men is remarkable, and stays in the memory.
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