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Set in 1955 when many migrated from Russia to the Steppes of Kazakhstan, this is the trip back to the Canal from the frontier and farms by a number of people who tell their settler stories. Alenka Muratova (Ovodova) is a winsome 13 year old who talks Dmitry Prokovich, the chief mechanic for the Soviet, into giving up his seat in the truck to a young mother with her infant daughter. Then Alenka and Dmitry share the back of the open truck with a young woman, newly graduated dentist who has not been able to find a position, Stefan, a hitchhiker with a dog who hopes his upper-class wife will return to him and the countryside, and Vasselina Petrovolka, a woman who lost one of her twin daughters in a riding accident by the river shortly after they arrived, and now is returning to tell the other twin of her sister's fate. A warm hearted look at common folks traveling in the frontier. Written by
An achingly poignant film, about the now distant ghosts of a more valid yesterday
One of the - unexpectedly - most poignant, moving films you will ever see, in its own right and more so if you bear in mind the historical perspective. It's 1955, 10-15 years after the total war of annihilation unleashed on the Soviet Union by the Nazis, with its 30 million (mostly non-combatant) Soviet dead, and 30-35 years before the selling off of the same country, in the name of freedom, to the assorted gangsters who largely still own it and run it today.
But in this luminous film (made in 1961, at the beginning of the most civilised and hope-inspiring global decade of the last 100+ years) we are in the boundless steppes of near-Eastern Russia, towards the start of the 30-odd years in between these two disasters, in the years of advanced post-war reconstruction and hope which indeed were paralleled in the West.
The film opens with a virtuoso visual (oblique aerial) tracking shot, so effective and striking as to be reminiscent of the German tank's advance at the start of the classic "Ballad of a Soldier" (1959). It seems to be mid 19th century American West, with boundless and bountiful territory newly occupied by people of boundless optimism for the future.
And one is then emotionally captivated by the charm of the warm sunshine-yellow/sky-blue technicolor images, which matches the innate exuberance, brightness and lovableness of the film's eponymous little Alyonka (as the diminutive endearment form "Alenka" is pronounced in Russian).
Oblivious as most Westerners are to the far graver propaganda they themselves labour under in what is sold to them as free democracy, many reviewers will struggle to avoid being blinded by this film's presumed propaganda nature. As a matter of fact, though it was allowed to be made and then preserved, Alenka did not gather its brilliant director any kudos for propaganda value. That is because it was a very poetic look at contemporary Soviet life as it actually was, without being blind to its many hardships and imperfections.
What shine like suns in Alenka are the real characters and utterly moving dialogue and performances - especially of Alyonka and the young, idealistic but unlucky dentist from Riga. This is what the Soviet Union mostly consisted of before the contemporary New Russia (which still benefits from those earlier decades but is fast shedding all that heritage): utterly loyal, disciplined and so "old-fashioned" individuals, for whom ideals mattered more than anything else.
This is the poignancy of this film for us who are condemned to live in the 21st century whilst remembering the third quarter of the 20th. The prevailing ideals and personal standards in the heyday of the Soviet Union, so eloquently and beautifully illustrated here by Boris Barnet, are heart-rending in the context of our much less valid contemporary ethos. And they aren't coming back. It is like looking at remotely distant ghosts, even though it was all only yesterday.
Thank you Ronnie and your neocons - from Russia to Iraq and Chile to Central America, you always did know how to make the world a better place.
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