In 1941, three men reach India from Tibet, having walked 4000 miles after escaping a Siberian gulag. The film tells their story and that of four others who escaped with them and a teenage girl who joins them in flight. The group's natural leader is Janusz, a Pole condemned by accusations secured by torturing his wife; he knows how to live in the wilds. They escape under cover of a snowstorm: a cynical American, a Russian thug, a comic accountant, a pastry chef who draws, a priest, and a Pole with night blindness. They face freezing nights, lack of food and water, mosquitoes, an endless desert, the Himalayas, and moral questions of when to leave someone behind. Written by
When Janusz and the others spot the tattoo of Lenin and Stalin on Valka's chest, he angrily replies that they were great men. Such tattoos were in fact employed by criminals in the false hope that they wouldn't be shot there as it was supposed to be illegal to deface an image of either Lenin or Stalin; although it is well-known that the executions were conducted via shooting in the back of the head. See more »
In the establishing long shot of the woodcutters, many of the prisoners are clearly only pretending to cut the logs, only tapping them with their axes. See more »
This was a long film but I was unaware of the length because I was so thoroughly engrossed. The scenery and the photography were simply spell binding but more than that, this was a story about the indomitable spirit of people faced with desperate odds told with sensitivity and at times, humour. Others have commented on the quality of the acting, the accuracy of the story and the cinema-photography; I want to comment on a different aspect of the film. We hear and see a great deal about the crimes of the Nazis during this period but very little about the crimes of the Soviet system. This film is not a "dull metaphor" of the Cold War as one reviewer has said If this films sparks a little enquiry amongst its audiences it will have done a great service to the memory of Poles and other eastern Europeans who suffered the double tragedy of Nazi and then Communist occupation. When Nazism was defeated in 1945, half of Europe was just beginning a sentence in Communist bondage that was to last another thirty five years. This aspect of the story is all the more effective because it is told through the eyes of a small group of people and at a personal level. At the end of this film, the entire audience sat still for about fifteen seconds. There was not the usual end of film scrum. People just needed a moment to absorb what they had sen. This was the best film of the year!
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