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BALLAD OF A SOLDIER
Review by Michael Jacobson
Vladimir Ivashov, Zhanna Prokhorenko, Antonina Maximova, Yevgeny Urbansky
Director: Grigori Chukhrai
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Video: Full Frame 1.33:1
Features: Audio Interviews
Length: 88 Minutes
Release Date: April 30, 2002
be back, mama.”
of the most beautiful scenes in Grigori Chukhrai’s Ballad of a Soldier communicate
volumes of emotion without the benefit of a spoken word.
They both involve a nineteen-year-old soldier, Alyosha (Ivashov).
One is between him and a lovely traveling companion, Shura (Prokhorenko),
who don’t share so much as a kiss, but their eyes tell each other the feelings
they will only be able to voice later in their imaginations. The second involves Alyosha and his mother.
“Let’s talk for a while,” she says, and silence follows, but we
know more is being said than words could ever account for.
in 1959, Ballad of a Soldier illustrated a new kind of thinking in Soviet
cinema, and the results were luminous. It’s
the antithesis of a picture like Sergei Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky, where
war was viewed as heroic and just, and sacrifice as noble.
In Ballad, there is heroism, but of a more sensible kind…and the
great price of personal sacrifice isn’t glossed over.
are told from the opening voiceover that Alyosha is dead.
His mother (Maximova) still waits for him every day by the long dusty
road where she last saw him leave. We
are going to learn, according to the narration, the story of Alyosha that not
even his mother got a chance to know.
we first meet him, he is an army signaler in World War II who, more out of fear
than anything else, manages the unlikely feat of disabling two enemy tanks.
Offered a medal but asking instead for leave to return to his mother so
he can fix her roof for her, his commanding officer grants him six days away
from the front: two to get there,
two to get back, and two to fix the roof. It
is more than what Alyosha hoped for, but his commander assures him he will need
it. He turns out to be
right…because of the war, schedules aren’t very reliable, people are trying
frantically to get from one place to another, and means of travel are hard to
rest of the film shows Alyosha away from the war…in other words, as an
individual, and not as one soldier among many.
Because of this, we really get to see what kind of man he is…moral,
loyal, and good. He’s one of the
most likable characters I’ve ever encountered in the movies.
film documents his travels, and the people he encounters along the way, each one
somehow echoing the sentiment of what war takes away from individuals.
A soldier with an amputated leg almost refuses to return home to his wife
out of fear, before Alyosha convinces him otherwise.
He also makes a stop on behalf of a fellow soldier he didn’t even know,
to make a present of some soap to his wife.
But when Alyohsa finds the wife unfaithful, despite his lack of time, he
takes the soap instead to the soldier’s stricken father, and consoles him with
tales of how brave and well-liked is son is in the army.
the key encounter is with the lovely young Shura, who ends up accompanying him
for most of his trip. She is
returning to her fiancé, and Alyosha respects that, although we can see the
blossoming feelings of love between them. It’s
a feeling so strong that Alyosha is almost tempted at one point to turn back
from his journey home and stay with her…who knows what his life might have
been like if he had?
the end, he makes his destination, but his time is so short that all that’s
left for him is a brief, tearfully beautiful moment with his mother before he
has to take to the road again, shouting his promise of return.
It’s a promise we know he won’t be able to keep.
narration wonders like we do what this remarkable young man might have
accomplished if not for the war…yet the film makes no judgments on war itself.
It simply takes a closer look, and sees war without the benefit of
propaganda or heroic lenses. It
looks beyond armies and sees individuals. Alyosha
may always be remembered as a soldier, because he never had a chance to define
himself beyond those perimeters.
the movie allows the audience to share a few days with him, and to create a
complete picture of him as a man that no individual in his encounters could have
completely put together. It’s the
ultimate tribute to one who has sacrificed everything…and if it’s not the
kind of tribute that could be readily possible in life, at least it could be
perfect in art.
is another triumphant black and white transfer from Criterion, with a
surprisingly clean print to boot. Specks
and debris are completely minimal, and unnoticeable most of the time, which is
extremely impressive for a film as old as this!
The photography is beautiful and renders with great integrity on DVD.
Images are sharp and detailed throughout, and the scope of blacks to
whites and everything in between comes across cleanly and purely.
Only a very minor amount of light grain is apparent against a couple of
lighter scenes…these are brief, and not distracting. All in all, a fine, quality effort.
mono soundtrack is pleasantly lively and dynamic, with some strong effects here
and there and a terrific musical score by Mikhail Ziv.
Dialogue, though in Russian, seems clear and free from interference
throughout, and the track is largely noise-free.
disc includes about 15 minutes worth of audio interviews with stars Ivashov and
Prokhorenko, plus director Chukhrai, which plays out with still image