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In 1946, a soldier fathers a child then dies before its birth. Jump to 1952: on a train, the child and his mother meet a handsome soldier who makes a play for her. She accepts. Posing as a married family, the soldier finds them a rooming house where he becomes everyone's favorite through his good looks and generosity. Meanwhile he gives the boy, Sanya, lessons in life: to fight back, to win at all costs. The child's mother, Katya, is head-over-heels in love with Tolyan, the soldier, but the relationship becomes rocky when Tolyan's true plans for the rooming house become clear. It starts them on a treadmill of flight that risks Katya's life, Tolyan's liberty, and Sanya's trust. Written by
Sanya - 48 Years Old:
I was born right after the war, in 1946. My mother was going to the village where her relatives lived and gave birth to me right on the road. I never saw my father. He was covered with wounds when he returned from the war and died six months before I was born, but throughtout my childhood I kept thinking of him, trying to imagine him.
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Pavel Chukhraj's award winning film THE THIEF is one of those special films that should be owned and revisited - like a favorite novel or poem or symphony. Chukhraj both wrote and directed this tale/fable set in Stalinist Russia, a story which encompasses the impact on a child of loss of a father in the war, the appalling living standards in the communes during the 1950s where multiple families and comrades shared space and survived the lack of privacy, and the extents to which people will go to survive what fate has dealt them and the sad sequelae that follow.
The story opens on the cold steppes of Russia where Katya (Yekaterina Rednikova) gives birth to a son Sanya (Misha Philipchuk) in the mud of a country in disrepair in 1946. Narrated by the adult Sanya we next see Katya and Sanya on board a train where they encounter a handsome soldier Tolyan (Vladimir Mashkov), a seemingly gentle man who immediately bonds with the two 'refugees'. The remainder of the story deals with the fact that Tolyan is a thief and causes disruptive moves of his 'family' as he plunges them deeper into the hole of his crimes. At times he is harsh with Sanja, at time he is protective and instructive as a surrogate father, teaching Sanya the cruel rules of survival. He is finally imprisoned, Katya dies from an infection following an abortion, and Sanya grows into his teen years in orphanages, dreaming of his real father, wondering about Tolyan. They two make a final surprise encounter that leads to the ending of the story.
The actors are exceptional, the supporting cast is particularly fine, and the cinematography and set designs are something beyond description. The eyes of Sanya (those of Misha Philipchuk) will haunt you and beckon return to this most impressive and touching film. Highly recommended. Grady Harp
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