Young Russian soldier Alyosha earns a medal, but asks to visit his mother instead. His journey recounts various kinds of love during wartime.Young Russian soldier Alyosha earns a medal, but asks to visit his mother instead. His journey recounts various kinds of love during wartime.Young Russian soldier Alyosha earns a medal, but asks to visit his mother instead. His journey recounts various kinds of love during wartime.
An old fashioned but utterly gorgeous film about a soldier discovering something bigger about himself than even the war could teach him on the battlefield. It's a drama about life, photographed with what strikes me as a European poetic visual sensibility. In its lyrical flow, it is amazing. No other word for it.
In 1959, the Soviet Union was only 14 years away from the end of the war that cost them 23 million deaths (10 million of these were soldiers). And a ravaged countryside. This is monumental in a way that we Americans have trouble appreciating, even though our own losses were around 1 million, including civilians directly and indirectly. But with this kind of staggering history, the very touching tale of a very innocent boy wanting to get back to his mother for a single hug is heart wrenching. Director Grigori Chukhrai, himself Ukrainian, seems to know that his role, in the Khrushchev era of Cold War USSR, is to show the best of the Soviet heart and soul.
The journey, for the viewer, is often filled with silence, and with carefully composed shots of the boy, alone or with other travelers (often soldiers). The light and the framing is moving even on its own terms. Many times the key face in foreground is sharp and softly stark while many other faces fall out of focus around this, camera tilted, or looking up, with flickers of light from trees outside the train window or a diffused glow of a grey sky drenching it all with melancholy.
Alyosha, the young man who by some fast wits and luck knocked out two tanks in the first scene and earned this special trip, meets a variety of people on his way who each represent a part of the Soviet (mostly Russian, but with a nod to Ukrainians) experience: a wounded man going home without his leg, a young conscript heading to the front to probably never return, this same young man's father in a hospital apparently dying, and a girl his own age, equally pure and nearly untouched by life's horrors. In every case, there is a kind of Soviet optimism that is almost refreshing even if it is just slightly reminiscent of their earlier propaganda movies. Because, the wounded man meets his wife at the station and is renewed, the young conscript is cheerful and hale, the father is proud and glad his son is a good soldier, the mean officer has an understanding heart, the sergeant gives his only soap to the traveller, and so on.
But this kind of goodness is part of what makes the film special. There is no room for noir cynicism, or even existential loneliness. After all, Alyosha has found the truest of true love, and even though he may be returning to the war to never return, the boy and girl have elevated each other, and the movie, and the viewer, with a real sense of what being good is all about. If you can find this movie, see it by all means.
- Jan 14, 2011