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A young officer in the army of Empress Catherine of Russia is on his way to his new duty station at a remote outpost. During a blinding snowstorm he comes upon a stranger who was caught in the storm and is near death from freezing. He rescues the man and eventually brings him back to health. When the man is well enough to travel, the two part company and the man vows to repay the officer for saving his life. Soon after he arrives at his new post, a revolt by the local Cossacks breaks out and the fort is besieged by the rebels. The young officer is astonished to find out that the leader of the rebellious Cossacks is none other than the stranger whose life he had saved during the storm. Written by
History taught on an emotional, even visceral, level
I first saw Tempest as an 8-year-old; I was also an altar boy in my Russian Orthodox parish in Pennsylvania. While others watched a story on a large screen, I found myself pulled into the action, and to be honest, I did not sleep well for the next two weeks. But this attests to the movie's impact in an ultimately affirmative way. One week later we visited the Gettysburg Battlefield, and my father's unspoken wish that I fall in love with history came true.
I cannot overstate the film's influence on my life - I taught history for three decades and earned my PhD in education while doing so. 28 years later I was asked to recount the key points of the story and I spent nearly thirty minutes doing so in incredible detail. I became a devoted fan of Van Heflin and Agnes Moorehead. I also began to probe in depth the complex history of my mother's homeland and began to admire Alexander Pushkin's genius. I spent years trying to obtain a copy of the film and finally did so only last week; I found a wealth of material for psychological studies simply in comparing my recollections with what the film actually presented.
I did not expect to find such fidelity to historical and even cultural accuracy, and I regret that many movie-goers at the time were probably not prepared for the insights that Pushkin, via Tempest, offered them. The climactic battle scene illustrates the division of the Cossacks, especially on the eve of the faraway American Revolutionary War, into factions: one of these supports the crown, even if it rests on the head of an Austrian-born czarina, another reacted to the evils of czarist autocracy, and yet another wished only to live undisturbed and draw upon its traditions to assuage the misery of struggling to survive in equally hostile natural and political environments.
Perhaps only the diminished quality of my copy impels me to rate the film 8 instead of 10; certainly a production which so influenced my life, and therefore quite possibly many others, deserves respect equal to the very simulated but overwhelming post battle impact it had upon me.
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