Sunday, March 29, 2009

Ballad of a Soldier

Grigori Chukhrai, Russia, 1959 (9.1*)
This is a simply beautiful black and white Russian film. Among the first to be released in the U.S. after the Stalin reign of censorship ended, it’s a simple anti-war tale of a nineteen year old soldier, played by Vladimir Ivashov. Really nothing more than a travel or ‘road film’, the story concerns a pass he receives to visit home after destroying two German tanks in the film’s opening sequence. From then on, we are away from the war, witnessing a young hero’s journey home to see his mother, at times having to bribe train guards with cans of food, which was that scarce, even for soldiers. Shanna Prokharenko plays a gorgeous,m wholesome young Russian woman he meets on the train and travels with.

Somehow, Chukhrai avoids sentimentality, but tells a story with a lot of heart and optimism, while at the same time showing the fortitude with which the Russian people, mostly rural peasants, faces the massive Nazi invasion of their homeland, which created a 1500-mile war front, something we can’t imagine here – akin to two armies facing off along the entire length of the Mississippi River. There’s much beautiful cinematography and amateur faces as much of the film involves a train trip, so the viewer is taken along the same journey home to the prairie. Some call it propaganda; then watch some John Wayne or other U.S. war films, even worse with lots of yankee bravado; this is far more subtle and effective. One of the best Russian films , unfortunately no other films of Chukhrai's are available.


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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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