During WW2, Hungarian soldier Lombos Mihály is denied furlough and returns to battle on the Eastern Front where he is captured by the Soviets who use him as a 'trampler' through the German minefields and as an interpreter.
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"Mankind is nature's greatest mistake. In his actions echoes millions of years of instinct and a few genius's idea's useless revolution." End of 1942, eastern front, Ukraine. Private Lombos, tied to his family and his homeland by a strong loyalty, is serving in the Royal Hungarian Army. Due to an administrational error, he cannot go back home on leave. Despite his sorrow, he does his duty and takes up arms again to march further into the hell of the eastern front. During an attack he gets wounded and he's forced to spend a night behind enemy lines hiding out in a pit, where he meets an old man. They talk through the night, and the old man's words tremble his unbroken faith in his family and his country. As the dawn approaches, soviet shtrafbat soldiers find them and Private Lombos falls into captivity, then soon he's forced to join the "mine tramplers", a penal battalion whose soldiers clear minefields by stepping on them. Lombos has a hard time fitting into this new scenery, but the ...
SPOILER: This is of course basically a WW2 (or Great Patriotic War) war film: Hungarian soldier gets caught by Soviet forces, forced into a penal battalion, and everything proceeds from there. Since there would be no movie if he got blown up early, he survives being a 'trampler' and does not end up killed or maimed by a mine - the very mines his 'side' in the war has laid for the Soviets. Any war movie has to be judged by the quality of action scenes and views of movements, fight scenes, use of ammunition and military hardware. This is quite skilfully done - although this is a Hungarian movie we actually see mostly Soviet fighters in action, except for the occasional Hungarians and Germans, one Italian prisoner, and some snipers. Nothing about the brutality and violence of war, down to the brutal questioning of prisoners and a rape scene, is ignored or toned down. To some extent, you could say this movie is about identity: how do I know where right and wrong may actually be? Why should I hate the enemy? Isn't it logical for Russians to hate me since I was part of the group that invaded their motherland? All this is well done, but the most innovative part may reside in the Jewish- Hungarian deserter, an older man, who has gone over to the Soviets and plays the part of Lombos Mihaly's conscience, unless it is the devil - a very convincing part with the appropriate chiaroscuro filming choices most of the time. It might be appropriate to deal with the devil since after all Lombos, who has repeatedly been denied a furlough, is going down through several circles of Hell here. Some are obvious (the land mines), some are more psychological (could his wife cheat with an officer and have his name kept out of the list for furloughs, hoping he'd die?). Some Hungarian commentators have raised the notion they did not like the movie because it was more like a Soviet movie extolling the greatness of the red Army, political commissars included, rather than the value of the Hungarian soldiers and officers, whom we actually see only briefly, mostly at the beginning. Since Hungarians were Nazi allies, it is of course a touchy proposition to extol the virtues of the Hungarian army in WW2. In the end, and without spoiling a somewhat surprising ending, what remains is an individual's attempt at surviving and discovering himself through tough war experiences and with the on and off advice of a devil-like figure. This is certainly a movie worth seeing. The end and the beginning offer short moments that are completely out of the war setting making the philosophical choices even more obvious, as well as the function of a diary Lombos Mihaly writes in at odd times. Th musical score and the few songs, particularly at the beginning and the end, are remarkable. Even watching mostly with subtitles, since the soundtrack and dialogues are in Hungarian, Russian, and a little German and Italian.
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