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
[All trivia items for this title are spoilers.]
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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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The Russian release features an additional 14 minutes at the end which depict Sanya as an adult. After he shoots Tolyan, the film cuts directly to modern times where Sanya is a colonel of the Russian army. He explains that he has had to kill many times since that day and that his profession justifies it. In a war-torn village, he mistakes an old man for Tolyan. He embraces the old vagrant, who dies in his arms. Upon inspection of his back, he finds that there is no Panther tattoo. It is not Tolyan. As he leaves the village in his own personal staff car, he takes off his shirt. At this point Russian audiences see for the first time that Sanya has a Panther tattoo identical to Tolyan's on his back. (Some non-Russian versions finished the film with a shot of Sanya at 12 lying in his bunk with this tattoo. Russians did not see that scene.) The original Russian version ends with a flashback to Sanya at 6 peering out the window of the train and seeing his father waving to him on the back of a passing railcar. It is rumored that 'Pavel Chukhraj' cut the non-Russian versions for two reasons. First, he wanted to make it shorter and more attractive to foreign critics and film festivals. He also felt it might confuse and complicate the meaning of the film for viewers not familiar with modern Russia. See more »
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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