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At first I thought this film would be the usual war film in total line with the politburo's view on The Great War. But after 15 minutes in the film, something changes. First we have a scene in which Sokolof (the main character played by director Bondarcuk)) comes home drunk - something I have never seen in an older Soviet movie, than the war breaks out and after a slightly over the top scene in which Sokolof says goodbye to his family all hell breaks loose. The scene where Sokolof drives his car filled with ammunition across the frontline is incredible, and this is only the beginning of the war. Although the story sometimes is quit melodramatic, the photography of the film is exceptional modern for a film made in 1959. In beautiful black and white the viewer witnesses the whole damn thing called war. The film is not as heartbreaking and in-your-face as Come And See by Klimov, but Klimov must have seen this film and used it as an inspiration. Russia lost 20 million people during the second world war (some because of Stalin) but what it meant for and how it changed the life of ordinary people is all to clear in this story. This man's fate as he calls it. Although the film, I suppose, is rare, see it if you ever have a chance.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie is very special in many ways. It is a good movie in
cinematic terms because it is aesthetically very impressive and has a
good plot structure. On the other hand, this film touches subjects that
were taboo in the Soviet Union of the time, and bravely shows parts of
the history of the war that had not been part of public discourse at
the time. It is also unusual because many Soviet films about WWII ended
with an upbeat note, unlike this one.
"Fate of a Man", as the title of the film translates, is a movie about a Soviet man (Sokolov) who experiences many of the horrors of the war against the Soviet Union. The movie tells his story in a flashback, showing how he is very broken after the war and what led to this. He had lost his family in the war, and had fought in it, he witnessed how his Jewish comrades were singled out and killed, and then he was taken to Germany to do forced labor. There, he suffered all sorts of abuse and barely survived. After the war ends, he goes back home, distressed and unable to find comfort for his emotional and physical pain. The film is very subtle in its depiction of the horrors of war, even though it does not white-wash what happened. As it was the first Soviet film to touch the subject of slave labor during the war, and of the murder of the Soviet Jews, it does this carefully, emphasizing the humanity of the victims of these cruel crimes without focusing on the gore. Together with "The Cranes are Flying" and "Ivan's Childhood" this is one of the first Soviet films about WWII that do not have a happy "we won"-type of ending. These three films were a form of dealing with the suppressed pain of Soviet citizens, after having lost one quarter of their population (27mio.) through the brutal attack by the Nazis.
This movie is very impressive and very touching as well. I highly recommend it.
After the Russian Civil War, the Russian worker Andrei Sokolov (Sergei
Bondarchuk) marries his beloved Irina (Zinaida Kirienko) and seventeen
years later, the couple has a son and two daughters. The family man
Andrei is summoned by the Red Army as truck driver in the World War II
and he promises to Irina that he will return to his family. Andrei
drives through a road that is bombed and he is captured by the Germans
and suffers in the prisoner camps. He finds strength to resist the
maltreatment of the German soldiers thinking in Irina and his children.
Andrei succeeds to escape from the Germans and finds that Irina and their daughters were killed during the bombing of their house and his son Anatoly is a Captain of the Russian Army. Near to the end of the war, Anatoly dies and Andrei does not see any motive to live. Until the day that she sees the starving orphan Vanja begging on the streets of Uryupinsk.
"Sudba Cheloveka" is a magnificent Russian anti-war film with the nightmarish saga of a survivor of World War II. The narrative is perfect, with top-notch screenplay, direction, performances, cinematography and scenarios. The film gives the sensation of documentary and I am not sure whether the director Sergei Bondarchuk used in his debut inserted footages to give more realism to the movie.
The sequence when Andrei meets the orphan boy is touching and never corny and closes this little masterpiece with golden key. My vote is nine.
Title (Brazil):"O Destino de um Homem" ("The Destiny of a Man")
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I've seen a few Russian war films recently and noticed that they feel
more like Hollywood war films . Both THE STAR and 9TH COMPANY suffer
from this . COME AND SEE didn't . It was a brutal , unforgettable war
film made during the late communist era of the Soviet Union showing the
bestial atrocities forced upon the Soviet people . I did have high
hopes that being a Soviet film rather than a Russian one DESTINY OF A
MAN would show the suffering the Soviets endured from 1941-45 . Does it
? Yes to a degree but there's some faults in the story telling
The story is told in flashback by Andrey Sokolov . He is taking his son for a walk in the countryside and meets a man and tells him of his wartime service . Conscripted in to the army as a driver he is captured by the Germans early in the war . He suffers deprivation as he's used as slave labour , sees comrades murdered by the Nazis , comes close death several times . Escapes and makes it back to his own lines where he's treated as a hero . He finds his wife and daughter died during an air raid and as the last days of the war take place his last child , a Red Army officer is killed in the Battle Of Berlin . Devastated Sokolov finds some comfort when he finds an orphan and adopts him as his son
It's not a film that has a strong central plot . It is rather episodic but where it succeeds is showing the brutality of the Nazi regime against conquered people . Caputured officers , political commissars and Jews were shot out of hand and as Sokolov finds himself behind Nazi lines there's a scene where people go in to a camp with a large chimney bellowing smoke . The implication is stark and obvious - you enter via the front gate and leave via the chimney
Ironically by drawing attention to the murderous intent of Nazism it leaves some plot holes involving Sokolov . He escapes from a forced labour detail and hides in the countryside for four days and is then recaptured . But would the Nazis allow an escaped prisoner to live ? Lkewise a brutal SS camp commander says he's going to execute Sokolov but then changes his mind because Sokolov can hold his drink
There's another unlikelihood and that is when Sokolov escapes to the Soviet front lines kidnapping a German officer with important documents and being lauded as a hero , but would this have happened in real life ? It's a forgotten point of history that Soviet prisoners captured during the war would receive little sympathy from their leaders after being liberated . Many of them would be sent on a death march to Soviet gulags . It's disappointing that this aspect is never referred to , especially since Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev instigated a de-Stalination program in the late 1950s at the time this film was made
That said it's very much a humanist type of film showing the triumph of the human will in the face of great adversity and all these type of films suffer from the same flaw . The Japanese film trilogy THE HUMAN CONDITION is similar in some ways . But DESTINY OF A MAN doesn't suffer from the sugary artificial aspects of Hollywood and for that we should be thankful
The work is absolutely stunning visually, at times radical in its framing. It is perfectly understandable that since the film was made only 5 years after Stalin's death the political strictures under which it was made forced the director to be careful to avoid depicting the persecution suffered by returning Soviet POW's under his rule, but by focusing on the suffering they, and most particularly the protagonist, experienced as prisoners in German work camps and the steadfast and heroic endurance they maintained in the face of cruelty and hardship he is completely successful in politically rehabilitating them as patriots, both for their contemporaries and for Soviet posterity. A beautiful and at times quite moving film. Highly recommended.
Sergey Bondarchuk is probably best known for his epic spectacle "War
and Peace" (1966), and his outstanding feature debut "The Destiny of
Man" (1959) was made in the same tradition of the war genre, though not
in a similarly big fashion. Like many other Soviet war films made
during the cultural thaw in Eastern Europe caused by the spirit of
Geneva such as "The Cranes Are Flying" (1957) and "Ballad of a Soldier"
(1959), "The Destiny of Man" focuses on the human experience in the
bleak misery of war. It tells the story of an ordinary man who lost
everything during a war that meant nothing to him.
The historical legacy and the poignantly present memory of the Second World War played an integral role in almost all of the Soviet films made during the cultural thaw. It is as though life itself was approached from this perspective. An entire generation was left alone with their problems to sink into oblivion in the era of Stalin's cult of personality. Not until the new political waves of the 1950's arrived were these people dealt properly in cinema.
"The Destiny of Man" cuts right to the memory of WWII as it begins from the first spring after the war. A man recalls his experiences during the war and ponders why life has mistreated him so in a long flashback. Bondarchuk's mobile camera fluently shifts to the past -- the memory -- revealing its reality before our eyes. His style is very modern, as is the case with other films from this period, born from dynamic movement, montage and intensity of close-ups. Accompanied by an astonishing soundtrack with nearly surreal tones and a great score by Venyamin Basner, this poetic voyage to the days gone by touches our very core.
The film was made in the same year with Masaki Kobayashi's masterful trilogy "The Human Condition" (1959-1962) which also highlights the experience and moral disappointment of an individual in times of immeasurable brutality. "The Destiny of Man" also includes a sequence taking place in a POW camp where the prisoners are forced to work, thus inevitably triggering an association with the first part of Kobayashi's trilogy. A perceptive spectator (or an obsessive fan of Kobayashi) might even observe a shot bearing a striking resemblance to the iconic image of workers walking up the hill.
What makes "The Destiny of Man" to stand the test of time and lifts it up to the same level with "The Cranes Are Flying" and "Ballad of a Soldier" is its profoundness. It is not a profoundness achieved simply by story, but by form. This can be seen in the film's aesthetics which is tremendously rich of tone and meaning. Bondarchuk truly achieves to depict the complexity of human experience and historical conditions. The cinematic repertoire of the image, the scenes and even entire sequences extends from the brief vibrations of the dramatic surface to the aesthetic profoundness of human existence.
a Sholokhov adaptation. powerful and honest. a Bondarchuk gem. and map of a war. it is a great Soviet film. not only as artistic work or testimony about elements of a period. not as sign of post Stalin evolution of art. but for silence of images. for the message after decades to its viewer. because the fate of man is, in fact, the fate of East Europe in last period of XX century. sufferance, pain and death. and delicate hope as freedom space. love as only gun against cruelty of a time. camps as metaphor for Nazi and Soviet system. fear, struggle for survive, guilty because innocence is only fiction. and sense of life, again and again, as fruit of battle against yourself. a film about life. pure life. without exception or pink ingredients. cold, bitter, strange but beautiful. if you discover force to remain yourself in middle of each storm.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Destiny of a Man is an extremely genuine exploration of a Russian
soldier's experience during the "Great Patriotic War," that strips him
of everything he loves. Director Sergei Bondarchuk portrays a character
whose struggles, sadness, and heroism feel astonishingly real. His
acting brings audiences through a series of scenarios that demonstrate
the pain and suffering caused by the conflict at home and on the front.
The film is a continuation of the departure in the late 1950s from the Stalin Era's socialist realism into the postwar period of actual realism, in which characters act based on believable motives whether or not they follow the party line. Sokolov survives innumerable atrocities, bravely facing his Nazi tormentors, not for Mother Russia, but for the love of his family. In fact, the state plays very little role in the film at all, and it is very much the story of its protagonist, a story that is emotionally relevant in a very universal way.
The film is honest and humble, but proceeds with a powerful style that underscores its raw humanity. It is marked by a motif of elevation, with Sokolov's emotions manifested in the highs and lows of shots and locations throughout his ordeal. He meets his wife while building a house, standing high above the ground. In scenes of suffering, including one in which he must lie on the ground in a Nazi detention camp, he is low to the ground, looking up at the imagined members of the family he so wishes to see. Likewise he ascends through his village to be reunited with his family, he reaches the depths of despair as he descends into the crater where his house stood.
In the end, the message is a positive one. Much like Veronika in the earlier film The Cranes are Flying, Sokolov begins to rebuild his life around an adopted son who has also lost everything in the war. Troubles continue to plague the man and his country, but he is not alone, a simple message that matches the humanity woven throughout the film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Buried under the mountain of clichés that typically entail a war film
(although perhaps not so pronounced for the era), Fate of a Man is a
genuinely emotional, well crafted movie that deftly handles the
subjects of loss and resolve. What differentiates Bondarchuk's film
from the litany of uninspired works, from any nationality, is the
prowess with which he employs said mountain of clichés not just as a
device to prop the plot upon, but instead as a means to explore the
depths of the human trauma that results from war.
Under the relative creative freedom the "Thaw" provided, Bondarchuk's work is highly subjective and seemingly draws influence from Italian neorealism. Sokolov is a man who lived contentedly, before the war took everything from him. The story is divulged from his first person account, intimately executed through voice over. Each shot is visual progression in his emotional journey. The neorealist value of characters' space and their movement through it realizes this sense of progression. To cite an example, we simply have to look at buildings and characters' relation to them. Solokov meets his wife constructing a home. Prewar life is warmly attached to these buildings (homes and factories), a sense of fulfillment and love residing within. Returning home after the war we see shots of lumbering skeletons of bombed out factories, everyday life stripped of the flesh that once gave it meaning. This sequence culminates in Sokolov's discovery of the crater where his family home once was. Attention to small details such as a bed frame sticking out of the puddle of water in the crater make it especially heart wrenching. Speaking more specifically about physically inhabiting a space, there are a couple of striking shots. One example is in the scene where the Nazi's call out men from a line for execution. After the doctor who helps Sokolov is removed from his place in the line, the camera lingers on the empty space where he once was for several seconds. It's small moments like these that make the audience really internalize the sense of loss rather than just sigh a quick mandatory, "Awww."
There are moments in the film where the melodrama reaches distasteful limits, along with some poorly conceptualized and executed editing (ex. Water on the lens to fade in and out of early flashbacks). However, Fate of a Man is a special film, improperly served in this brief review.
the novel by Sholokhov. the performance of Bondarchuk. the wise script. the close-up. and the life of a man who seems be only new Job. a film who impress not only for the drama but for its profound poetry of small details. a confession. and the hope. the war's traces. and the future as new beginning. it is part of a long chain who defines the Soviet cinema as artistic treasure. it is, in same measure, fruit of a political situation. but, more important, it is a fine work. because it reflects human feelings, duties and pain out of ideological circle. because it is an universal story. and one of beautiful examples of high cinema. that could be all. not a great show but useful exercise about the force of art. and, sure, for the Eastern public, a travel in history, against wars, crisis, disasters. and cases of survive.
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