Andrei Konchalovsky (Russia, 1937), brother of
debuted in the age and in the style of socialist realism with
Pervyy Uchitel/ The First Teacher (1964) and especially
Istoriya Asi Klyachinoy/ Asya Klyachina's Story (1967),
a blend of documentary and fiction, which was only released in 1987 after
being remade several times to please (in vain) the censors.
The film's stark realism and crude language makes it a close relative of
Italian neorealism and of cinema-verite.
Filmed in black-and-white and acted by non-professional actors, it obviously
aimed to be as realistic as possible, with little or no emotions attached
(except in the ending).
Social realism was not realist at all: it mythologized a utopian socialist society, whereas
Konchalovsky depicts life in a rural village the way it is. And it is not
something to be proud of:
the characters are anti-heroes living miserable, drunk and sometimes violent lives.
Social realism depicted farmers and workers as being enthusiastic about building socialism. In this film, instead, the characters hardly pay attention
to the official state news that are broadcast by the radio or to
socialist propaganda music (but happily sing along folk songs, even gypsy songs).
Ordinary life is disillusioned with socialist ideals.
Notable among the film's protagonists are the women.
The women of the collective farm are more serious about work than the men.
Men tend to get drunk and be lazy, and waste time with other men, whereas women work hard all day long, even when they are lonely and they have to raise children.
A child is lying in the grass, staring at the sky.
A strong woman is looking for her son Mishanka.
A man, Sasha (Chirkunov), walks into the collective farm carrying two suitcases.
He's on vacation. He visits Asya (played by a professional actress), who has not replied to his letter in
which he told her that he got an apartment and even a washing machine.
He proposes again to Asya while she's working hard in the kitchen.
She's pregnant and limping (presumably disabled).
We can hear tanks shooting coming from a military camp nearby.
The strong woman stares across the fields in that direction.
She finally finds her boy Mishanka, who has fallen asleep in the grass.
The men gossip that Asya rejected Kostya the gypsy and got pregnant, but nobody seems to know who the father is.
Next we see Asya, this time happy and relaxed, in the truck of driver
Styopa: he's the father of the baby. She wants him to marry her but he finds
During a break in the fields,
Prokhor tells another man the story of the woman he loved during the war.
She got wounded and was taken away on a truck and he lost her. His story
is drowned by a fighter jet flying over them but he continues it with his own
injuries due to a mine: he lost a finger. Released as an invalid, he tracked
her down in a farm but his friend leaves for work and we don't hear the end
of the story.
The workers celebrate with music the arrival of a truck full of grain,
and eat together in the fields, singing folk songs.
At the cafe of the nearby town, Kolya, the hunch-backed chief of the farm, tells a friend his own love story, which, again, doesn't end: he fell in love with her during the war and he still loves her.
Another man at the same table, an older man, Fyodor, tells the story of when he got back home after eight years in prison (a veiled reference to Stalin's gulags) while we see a landscape covered with snow. His wife
Nyura welcomed him with bad news: the family was starving. But then the old man
says that he's optimistic about the future and praises the Russian spirit with
patriotic words. Kolya and Sasha look down, clearly not as optimistic as him.
Fyodor's grandson Zhenya is hanging outside: he's an orphan but he gets his father's pension and goes to boarding school. And Sasha wants to adopt him.
Sasha visits the pregnant Asya and we learn that she lives with
her great grandmother, grandmother, mother, and niece: there are no men in
the family (and she remarks "no drunkards").
There are four generations of women.
She shows him pictures of the men of the family, all of them dead.
Sasha grabs a guitar and starts playing and singing for her.
But she walks away indifferent and he smashes the guitar on the floor.
Then he looks for her and tries to rape her.
Zhenya the boy sees it from a window and runs inside to defend her.
Sasha chases him outside while Asya simply laughs it out, amused, instead of
Kolya finds Mishanka reading the newspaper and tells him that the USA is killing children in Vietnam. Then Kolya realizes that Mishanka has messed up some documents and Mishanka runs away laughing.
A young woman, Katya, flirts with a young man: he shows her that he can walk on a tightrope: he plans to apply for circus school, but she's not happy at the news.
Sasha buys a birthday gift for Asya: a pair of expensive high-heel shoes.
All the women stop working and rush to admire the shoes, but Kolya sends
everybody back to work.
It starts raining heavily and the men shelter into one home.
Sasha starts an argument with Styopa and kicks him out in the rain.
Styopa grabs Asya, forces her to wear the high-heel shoes and follow him
in the rain, and then yells at her for accepting gifts from other men.
(But he never proposed to her).
Sasha tells the orphan Zhenya that he wants him to come and live with him,
in his comfortable home with modern furniture, but Zhenya doesn't believe him
and starts running away, while tanks roll by in a military exercises.
Slava, a young man,
is going to school in the big city, and Asya is sad to see him go, and Sasha offers to travel with him.
Before leaving, Sasha proposes one more time to Asya, in front of Styopa.
Styopa encourages her to accept, but Asya tells Sasha that she doesn't love him
and asks him to forgive her.
She not only rejects a man who truly love her (despite her disability and her
pregnancy) but also a comfortable life in a modern city apartment.
When the two men leave, Asya tries to kill herself by burying herself in a trunk in the attic, but her mom finds her in time.
Mishanka's grandfather dies and the village assembles for the funeral.
One night Styopa and Asya are traveling on his truck when she starts giving
Styopa is tempted to leave Asya in the ditch where she fell but then comes back
and helps her give birth to her baby, who is also his baby.
It is morning now. He stops a military truck full of soldiers who help him
carry Asya to town while he holds the baby in his arms.
She names him Seryozha. Styopa now would be willing to marry her but she rejects
him too, out of pride: she will raise the child herself.
The ending is confusing, but it looks like they are being relocated to another
Chief Kolya is said that they have to abandon the old farm with all its memories.
At the same time, the young men are being drafted in the army (not clear why).
Two trucks drive to the farm, and one is full of gypsies.
They help the locals throw the ugly and rundown dormitory down the ravine,
with the expectation that a better one awaits them.
The locals dance joyously to the music of the gypsies. Asya, in particular,
sings about her newly found freedom, despite
Styopa kissing her.
In the last scene she runs away by herself while the others keep dancing.
Konchalovsky then turn to literary adaptations: first Ivan Turgenev's
Dvoryanskoye Gnezdo/ Home of the Gentry (1969) and then Chekhov's Dyadya Vanya/ Uncle Vanya (1970), two famous Russian literary works, followed
by the sentimental musical film
Romans o Vijlublennych/ A Lover's Romance (1974), influenced by
Fellini and the French nouvelle vague.
Sibiriada (1979) is a colossal melodrama that spreads over multiple
generations, a huge fresco of Soviet civilization.
In the first hour (about life at
the beginning of the 20th century) the cinematography is often more
impressive than the story.
As far as the plot goes, the most interesting thread is the one that has
to do with a road to nowhere that an old crazy man wanted to build and
that turned out to represent an existential mission for both his son and
his grandson; but the swamp that lies ahead is cursed. The swamp, three
times bigger than France, become the real protagonist of the film, although
rarely seen, until the end, when the real protagonist is revealed:
the village's graveyard.
The film opens with an oil rig explosion and an
old man who stares at pictures of the past posted on the wall.
Part 1 is set at the beginning of the 20th century. A snow storm blankets
a village in a rural area of Siberia. A child, Kolya, has a violent argument with other
children: he stole their dumplings. He befriends a
runaway convict, Rodion, a revolutionary, and tells him that he steals because
the Solomin are rich. Kolya, instead, is left home alone after his mother
drowned and his father set out to build a road in the woods.
Kolya's only company is a crazy young woman that they found in the woods.
She just hangs around, but she is useless. An old idiot, Ted, comes begging.
Kolya explains that the old man is easy victim of the Solomin's greed.
By pretending to be an anarchist armed with a bomb, the runaway convict helps
the crazy old man to recover his pelts from the arrogant Solomin trader
who cheated him.
Kolya the child runs to tell his father Afonya in the woods. His father is chopping
the trees to build his road and just caught a lynx.
Afonya doesn't know where his road will go. He just chops trees down in a random
The evil girl Nastya catches Kolya stealing and makes him run naked around the
well in the snow, then throws his clothes to the ferocious guard dog.
Kolya is eager to follow Rodion to the city to become an anarchist himself.
Rodion builds a raft with a sail that glides around the icy lake.
The police find Rodion in Kolya's hut but he pulls out the bomb and tells
Kolya to get the iceboat ready.
Nonetheless the bomb fails, Rodion gets captured, the ice boat is burned by
the Solomins and Kolya tries in vain to get someone to help Rodion.
Documentary footage shows that the revolution has started.
Nastya is now a strong young woman armed with a rifle.
Kolya doesn't want to work for his father anymore: that road to nowhere
is a pointless project. The Solomins hear of the revolution when two of
the young come back injured: the poor are taking over.
Nastya walks to the woods whenever she wants to meet her lover Kolya.
She is craving sex with Kolya but makes the mistake of telling him about
His father is still chopping trees, but
Kolya gets excited that the revolution has started.
It means that the poor like him will soon be on top now, not the Solomins
She, resentful, simply walks to the field where her poor cousing Phil
works and kisses him.
Afonya gets tired and, drunk, falls asleep on his road: he dies and
his face is soon covered with ants.
Kolya tries to stop Nastya's wedding but the Solomins beat him up and
dump him in the river.
Later she refuses Phil but he rapes her in the barn.
Nastya runs away and finds Kolya in the river.
Documentary footage shows that
Lenin has died.
Kolya, now an older man, returns to the village with a younger comrade, who
is actually his son Alexei. When the people of the village shoot at him,
he complains that they missed: they don't practice well enough.
He then knocks at the gate and the elderly of the village finally open,
recognizing him as the young man they expelled years earlier.
He introduced Alexei to Nastya's father, and crudely relates that
Nastya died during the revolutionary struggle
He is now an enthusiastic party official and brings news of progress:
the state has decided to start drilling oil nearby and he needs them to
work on the road that his father left unfinished. It turns out that road
was not completely useless, after all.
Kolya tells Nastya's brother Spiridon that Nastya was burned alive by the reactionaries.
The following day Spiridon refuses to follow the others to work. Alexei is
ready to shoot him on the spot, but Kolya decides to simply arrest him
and give him the same treatment that the Solomins gave him many years earlier:
Kolya and Alexei tie Spiridon's arms and leave him in a boat to drift downriver.
The other men follow Kolya in the forest and start chopping trees, just like
Kolya's father used to do.
But the men think that the swamp is cursed.
Alexei burns religious icon, brainwashed that god does not exist, and laughs
at their superstitions. Kolya has to force them to advance
in horrible terrain. Old Solomin goes insane.
Even the steely Alexei eventually begins to doubt his father's mission (that
increasingly looks as senseless as his father's was).
And one day Alexei sees a ghost appear in the mist.
Alexei is terrified, but it is only his father Kolya.
They light a cigarette and set the swamp on fire: it is one huge field of
They return to the village but Spiridon has escaped: he kills Kolya and tries
in vain to show his affection for Alexei. The kid runs to the boat and
starts rowing. Spiridon chases him in another boat, but, realizing that Alexei,
has no intention of ever living with his father's assassin, eventually
Spiridon lets Alexei row away.
Documentary footage in fast forward shows the rapid industrialization of
the country and the start of World War II.
A girl walks out naked from the river and
finds a wounded and/or exhausted soldier lying by a tree.
She calls her grandfather, who recognizes him: Alexei.
And the old man guesses Alexei's purpose: avenge his father's killing.
Spiridon has been sentenced to ten years in a gulag.
He tells the girl, Taya, that he traveled 5,000 kms to get there, in vain.
He carries only one belonging: a turntable inside a briefcase.
Taya, whose brain doesn't seem to work too well, falls in love with him
right away. But a patrol arrives by river: they are recruiting all the men
to go to the front. Tanya runs along the river swearing eternal love to
Alexei, who has volunteered even if he is underage.
The other men of the village, instead, follow the oders reluctantly because
they have been working for years in the swamp and they feel that they are
close to completing Kolya's project. Now they do believe that the swamp is
an ocean of petroleum. They just need a few more days; but the official has
orders to recruit everybody.
Alexei is the only man to survives a massacre by the sea. He finds an officer
whose belly has been ripped open by a bomb and carries him away in an
improvised sleigh amid an enemy bombardment. It turns out Alexei saved
an important man, who turns out to be Phil Solomin. For that heroic deed he
Documentary footage shows that the
war has ended and the Soviet Union sent a man around the Earth.
Alexei now works in the petroleum industry. He returns to
his father's village 20 years later leading an oil drilling crew, armed
with state-of-the-art equipment. Only old people live there now.
The crew takes down the century-old gate
in a few seconds. It takes Alexei forever to recognize Taya, the only
attractive woman in town (the only one who is not an elderly woman).
Alexei recognizes instead his uncle Spiridon, now an old man. Spiridon has
served his jail term and even fought in the war in the penal batallion.
Alexei cannot take his reveng on an old man who can abrely walk but takes
his revenge psychologically: Alexei tells Spiridon that they will
demolish the village and build a modern town.
Taya is obviously sex-starved because she seduces him by the river.
She has been waiting for 20 years, after all.
Alexei's enthusiasm dies out when his boss Tofik tells him that the
bureaucracts authorized drilling only in the village itself, not in the
swamp where Alexei and his father found petroleum. Alexei, upset, drives
an all-terrain caterpillar vehicle into the swamp. He meets Taya's granpa who
is still alive. He keeps going and eventually found the cabin built by
the workers before they were drafted in the army. The draft is sinking,
the floor has already mostly collapsed, and Alexei cries tormented by
ghosts of the past before sinking in the mud... But it is only a bad dream:
he wakes up and is energetic as usual. The construction is proceeding
quickly and demands Alexei's attention. Taya complains that he already
forgot about her.
Spiridon watches speechless as Alexei's crew destroys his village
and then reads from the holy book for the burial of Taya's grandmother,
attended by all the elderly people of the village.
Meanwhile, in the capital Phil Solomin has become a powerful politician
and learns of a project that would completely wipe out the village:
a new dam. The only thing that could stop the project is if Alexei's crew
At the village Alexei is now interested in Taya, but Taya is less willing.
He insists on visiting her and then gets into her bed while she is in the
kitchen. He is surprised when his boss Tofik walks in, scantily dressed,
and Tofik is outraged to find another man in Taya's bed. Taya laughs loud
at the scene, even if Tofik is outraged, assuming that she cheated on him
with Alexei. Soon Alexei begins to break down: after a work accident, caused
by his iron discipline, he tries to restore the ancient gate of the village
with his hands.
Phil flies over the swamps with the engineer in charge of the new dam.
He asks the helicopter to land at his village so he can pay his respects
to the elderly.
When Spiridon sees his godson Phil,
Spiridon rants against the oil rig; but Phil explains to him that the choice is
between the oil prospectors (who are slowly but steadily encroaching the
village) and a dam that would flood the whole region:
if no oil is found, the dam will be built.
Phil's godfather armed with a rifle tries to shoot Phil, but is restrained by
the old women of the village. Phil doesn't even try to defend himself.
Phil does not forgive himself for not having fought against the decision
to build the dam.
Phil meets Alexei, the man who saved his life, but they don't recognize each
other. Alexei is now hated by the crew. He wants to leave, but Tofik forbids
him. When Tofik notices Phil and stops talking to Alexei, Alexei is grabbed
by the other men who beat him up. Phil makes Tofik feel guilty about not
having found oil yet.
Phil leaves having understood that Alexei is the son of Kolya.
Back in the capital Phil is scolded by his superior for delaying the dam
project. Phil retorts that the state has been postponing for too long the
development of Siberia's great mining potential, and asks for more time.
Back in the village, Tofik signs the paper that forgives Alexei and
releases him from work. Alexei can't wait to leave town.
Alexei bids goodbye from his coworkers and then, all dressed up like he was
when he arrived, he stops by Taya's place to see if she'd leave with him,
but she tells him that she is pregnant and doesn't want to marry him,
letting him understand that it is not his child.
He leaves calling her a fool, and doesn't see that she is crying.
Just then his old crew strikes oil: a black cloud spreads in the sky.
Alexei runs to hug and celebrate with the others, but
the rig catches fire and collapses (the first scene of the film) and
Alexei dies in the inferno trying to save a coworker.
Back to the capital, a telegram with the news of the oil strike reaches Phil
during a meeting with hundreds of delegates. Phil walks to the podium and
announces that oil has been found in Siberia.
Back at the village, Spiridon makes fun of the death of Alexei with
Taya, but Taya confesses that she is pregnant with Alexey's child.
Phil in person is there to supervise the work. The village is up in arms
because the workers have surrounded the graveyard: the soil is catching
fire all around the graves. The bulldozers quickly put out the fire
but in doing so they destroy all the graves. Phil has the vision of his
own father coming out of a grave to hug him, and then Nastya and all the
others who are buried there, and lastly Alexei, all of them hugging Phil
like a hero.
Documentary footage shows the development of Siberia in the years to come.
(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx) |
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Sceneggiatore ed assistente di Tarkovsky durante la prima
metà degli anni '60 (scrisse Andrej Rublëv),
Andrej Mikhalkov Konchalovsky debuttò alla regia con
Pervyj ucitel/ First Teacher (1966), la storia di un giovane maestro che all'indomani della rivoluzione viene inviato
dal governo bolscevico ad alfabetizzare un villaggio dell'Asia Centrale, abitato da contadini radicati nelle
loro usanze e nelle loro credenze, scettici e ostili nei confronti degli ideali di cui è imbevuto il
missionario rosso; il giovane pieno di entusiasmo si dà subito da fare per vincere la resistenza dei
cafoni incolti, ma i vecchi, arroccati attorno alla figura atavica del pope, danno fuoco alla sua scuola e
violentano la sua ragazza; e alla fine l'ideologo capisce che i sentimenti secolari della gente non si
possono cancellare con la forza in un sol colpo.
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Scroll down for recent reviews in English.
Maria's Lovers (1984) primo film hollywoodiano: nel dopoguerra, in un
umile villaggio russo d'America fa ritorno un soldato, reduce dagli orrori della guerra, che può
finalmente sposare la fidanzata; ma crisi d'impotenza dovute ai traumi subìti lo inducono a
lasciare la moglie, che avrà una relazione e un figlio con un vagabondo di passaggio, per
ricongiungersi poi felicemente a lei.
Runaway Train (1985),
from a script by Akira Kurosawa:
un cinico killer evade con un maniaco sessuale dal
carcere dell'Alaska, ma sul treno che prendono il conducente muore e loro restano in balía con
una passeggera della locomotiva; il direttore del carcere, un sadico spietato, arriva in elicottero per il
duello finale; si salvano soltanto il maniaco e la ragazza. Film catastrofico.
Duet for One (1986),
Shy People (1987),
Tango & Cash (1989),
Homer and Eddie (1989)
The Inner Circle (1991)
were very minor films.
Kurochka Ryaba/ Ryaba My Chicken/ Asya and the Hen with the Golden Eggs (1994), his first Russian film in a while, was a sequel to Istoriya Asi Klyachinoy set in post-Soviet Russia.
Dom Durakov/ House of Fools (2002), his best film in 20 years,
is almost a remake of
Philippe de Broca's Le Roi de Coeur/ King of Hearts (1966).
There is civil war raging near a psychiatric hospital.
Every evening the patients stare out of the window waiting for the one and
only train to ride by. The two sanest people are Janna, a
girl who plays the accordion and imagines that everybody dances at her songs,
and who is in love with a rock star, and Ali, a man who is in charge of keeping
the place clean, a poet who always carries a knapsack.
The other patients are deranged to one extent or another.
One even sets fire to the drapery.
One day, as the patients eagerly await to see the train from the window,
the doctor announces that there will be no train.
He then whispers to a nurse that they are cut off from the world: no telephone
and no radio. And the nurse, after lighting up a cigarette, responds that she
The following morning the girl wakes up to complete anarchy: someone stole her
accordion, her housemate is swinging naked from the chandelier and mad people
are running frantically in every corner of the building.
The hospital has been abandoned by the doctor and by the nurses.
Eventually the patients find the exit and break out of the gate but before they
can even think of leaving the precint bombs start falling.
Chechen soldiers enter the building. They
need a room for a wounded soldier
and a room for the prisoners.
The wounded soldier turns out to be a
female soldier, and no less tough for being a woman.
The group is led by a middle-aged commander.
A Russian captain comes in a tank to sell a corpse. He and the Chechen commander
bargain the price, then sit down and chat, and they find out that they both
fought in Afghanistan and that the Chechen's division saved the Russian's
division from certain annihilation. But now they are enemies.
Unbeknownst to the two commanders,
the Chechen soldiers also sell dope to the Russian soldiers.
The Russian soldier smokes dope and, while stoned, he accidentally triggers
his machine gun and starts a shootout. Luckily nobody gets hurt, but the
Russian commander gets mad at his soldier and leaves the place without even
picking up the money that the Chechen commander hands him.
One of the Chechen soldiers, Ahmed,
proposes to Janna. It is a prank, but Janna takes
it seriously. She is torn whether to accept the marriage proposal or remain
faithful to the rock star, whom she seriously consider her fiance.
All the patients get excited at the news that Janna is getting married.
She gives them presents and they give her presents
and help her with makeup, haircut, etc.
She wears her white dress and her best shoes, grabs her accordion
suitcase, and walks out to the camp of the Chechen soldiers.
The commander gets mad at Ahmed for taking advantage of the poor girl,
and a fight erupts. She grabs the accordion, like she does when her fellow
patients get out of control, and starts playing her favorite polka.
And soon the soldiers are playing their own music, singing and dancing
Ahmed keeps pretending that he is going to marry her.
Ali comes to get her back. The soldiers grab his knapsack to inspect it
and find that it is full of paper: all his poems.
Ali asks Ahmed why they are making fun of the girl. He is sane enough to
understand that the girl is delusional. When Ahmed replies that he wants to
take her away from the "nuthouse", Ali replies that the "nutshouse" is their
At night Janna has second thoughts and decides that she has to remain faithful
to the rock star.
Ahmed tells her that he never intended to marry her anyway
and they make fun of each other.
He gets drunk and falls asleep on her lap. When he wakes up in the morning,
she is in love again, and wants him to marry her.
Bombs start falling on the building again, and the patients are again in
Ali leads the patients to the basement, and a fat woman steals a machine gun.
Janna wants to help the Chechen soldiers pack. She is still dressed in white
and carrying her suitcase.
She is hurt when Ahmed jumps on the truck that is leaving the hospital in
She keeps playing the accordion not realizing that a helicopter is crashing
behind her until it explodes.
Ali is beaten while trying to save the money of the hospital.
Bombs keep falling and demolishing what is left of the hospital.
The wounded female soldier is left behind. She gets to the window of the room
where Janna is mourning, and starts shooting at the Russians,
but is killed, causing Janna a hysterical crisis.
The other patients are all in the basement.
Russian soldiers enter the building.
Janna's white dressed is now all soaked in blood;
and this was supposed to be her wedding day.
She cuts her hair in desperation.
The doctor finally comes back. He went looking for help.
Another troop of Russian soldiers enter the building.
They find all the rooms empty but eventually meet the doctor with all
The commander breaks down: he has had enough of the war, of death, of
mines, of mud.
A shootout erupts. Then the Russian soldiers realize they are shooting at their
own men. They capture all the "bandits" except one who ran away:
Ahmed hides among the patients, disguised as one of them.
The Russians display the badly wounded Chechen commander, who sees Ahmed
hiding among the patients but doesn't say anything. Ahmed is trembling.
The doctor sees Ahmed but the patients defend him, even Ali, and Ahmed takes
his place next to Janna. Her romantic dream has come true and she closes
her eyes and sees her rock star singing for her.
Glyanets/ Gloss (2007) is another satirical Russian film.
Belye Nochi Pochtalona Alekseya Tryapitsyna/ The Postman's White Nights (2014) was made with non-professional actors in a remote Russian village and is another blend of fiction and documentary.
Village life is not idealized at all: village life is
alcoholism, loneliness, poverty, broken families.
The isolated village has no
government, no hospital, no school.
It is surrounded by majestic nature, but that is a curse, not a blessing,
because it is the very nature that causes the isolation and therefore
the depressed mood.
Nearby there's a rocket station, a symbol of the technology and science that the antiquated village lacks, and the rocket may be the most powerful
allegory: when it takes off, it is shown on television to the whole nation,
but the villagers hardly care, and one of them watches it on his TV set while
he could see with naked eyes if he stepped outside.
An invisible character shows us family pictures, starting with
his brother's wedding, which took place at the time when he was drafted in the military.
The titles inform us that the film was made in a remote rural village and that
the characters are ordinary villagers playing themselves.
A man walks to the lake to fill a bucket with water, then makes his tea.
Then takes a motorboat to an office where a woman hands him pension money
and some mail. He tells her that he heard she's divorcing.
Then he buys food and some supplies and returns to the village, where he delivers some of this to old man Vitya, who keeps talking about Vietnam, and some
papers to Vitka, a drunkard, and pension money to the old people.
Aleksei/Lyosha is the postman of the village.
who every day crosses the lake by motorboat and brings back
pensions, groceries, and supplies, and rarely actual letters.
He has one letter for a woman who was his former schoolmate, and she tells him
that he wants to sell the house and leave the village with her son Timka.
He plays with the child and helps the woman carry water from the lake when she
tells him that her back hurts. The following day Lyosha buys back ointment for
her but, when he delivers it, he finds her having sex with someone else.
He then sits outside, waiting patiently and keeping Timka from walking inside.
A general comes on a helicopter to fish in the lake.
When an old woman dies, her coffin is carried to the lake by a tractor and then
to the cemetery, followed by the whole village, on a ferry.
Lyosha visits Vitka who tells him that he is always depressed, maybe because
his whole life has been an endless suffering.
Lyosha's only company at home is a feral cat that doesn't like to be touched.
A couple is caught poaching by an implacable ranger, Irina, who calls the
policeman and files a report.
Lyosha, who behaves like a father to Timka, takes the boy to the ruined
building that used to be the village's school.
Lyosha then gives the boy a tour of the lush swamp in his motorboat and
talks about a mythical animal. The boy gets scared and starts crying, so
they go fishing and then cook the fish.
Lyosha goes to sleep and dreams of being in the ruined school by himself
and hears the voices of the pupils and of the teachers.
A new day begins. Every time Lyosha wakes up, the camera shows us the scene
from above of Lyosha sitting on the side of the bed and staring at his
That morning he finds that someone stole the engine of his motorboat.
Lyosha borrows the boat of a fisherman and Timka jumps in. Lyosha reports
the theft to the police officer. Now Lyosha doesn't know how to deliver mail anymore.
Vitka, drunk as usual, remembers how
he and his little sister were abandoned by their mother when he was just five.
Lyosha travels to the post office to apply for a new engine. The bureaucrat in
charge doesn't care that it will take one month.
Lyosha takes Timka to visit his sister. He asks her for a loan, so he can survive one month without pay, but she doesn't have money (and doesn't seem too happy to see him).
Lyosha then takes Timka to the military base of the general and they witness
as a giant space rocket is being readied.
He then takes the boy to a shopping mall and buys him ice cream.
He is tempted to drink vodka but then resists the temptation and buys ice cream
also for himself.
When they return they find Timka's mother waiting furious: she never gave the
boy permission to spend the day with Lyosha, but contrary to what the boy told
Lyosha. Lyosha smiles.
Later, when Timka is asleep, he brings his mother the ointment that he bought
for her. He spreads it on her back but, when she understands that he wants to
have sex, she kicks him out.
Another day begins. We see again his flip-flops. This time we also see for a
few seconds how the other characters are waking up.
It's the day that Timka's mother has found a job in the big city.
She bids farewell from Lyosha, who is playing the accordion to a crowd.
When he gets back, he is invited to drink with friends: Vitya is paying.
But Lyosha knows that Vitya hasn't received his pension money yet, so Lyosha
accuses him in front of everybody of being the thief who stole his engine and
somehow sold it. Instead of listening to him, the villagers actually
attack him. He walks away alone.
Back home, he packs a few belongings in two bags and leaves.
He stays for the night at his sister's place.
The following morning he returns to the village while a rocket takes off
nearby, also broadcast on television.
In the last scene all the characters who still live in the village are shown on a ferry, and Lyosha is hugging Vitya.
The French-language Ray/ Paradise (2016) mixes documentary-style interview-like first-person confessions by the three (dead) lead characters and regular narrative scenes.
The film is a poem about the demented suicidal Nazist system that was wasting resources to pointlessly exterminate Jews while the enemy was advancing.
But it also has a metaphysical element, as we realize that the narrators are talking from the afterlife (if not exactly from paradise).
We never see the interrogator, but at the end he allows Olga, and only Olga, to enter paradise.
The happy ending is reminiscent of DeSica's modern Christian fables.
The three lead characters represent three contradictory but coexisting aspects of human nature: the evil, even more terrifying because so dignified and coherent,
the incoherent indifferent who drifts into history and has no dignity,
and the ordinary everyman (here an "everywoman"), who is not a hero, but becomes a hero when she discovers an innate instinct towards dignity, and becomes the counterbalance to evil, after having loved and being subjugated by evil.
The black-and-white cinematography by Alexander Simonov is co-protagonist of the story because it gives the film the feeling of vintage footage, anchoring it to a gruesome reality despite the metaphysical ambition.
The film opens in 1942, during World War II, when France was occupied by the Nazis, in a French prison: two women are locked in a cell.
One bangs on the door protesting.
Then we see Jules, a middle-aged man, who introduces himself in front of the camera as if he were interrogated.
He introduces us to his wife and children Bruno and Marie-Christine and informs us that
a lover of his widowed mother found him a job at the police station.
He appears to be a model family man.
This documentary-style "interview" is interrupted for a few seconds by the
effect of an old-fashioned film being rewound and cut.
When he goes the office, he is told by his secretary that two women have been
arrested because they were hiding Jewish children.
Now we see
Olga (played by Konchalovsky's wife Julia Vysotskaya)
talking to the camera and telling us about herself.
She is a Russian countess who worked as a fashion editor for a famous magazine and has joined the resistance.
Jules, a police officer for the Nazi-friendly Vichy regime, is angry that they didn't make her confess.
Jules interrogates her in person. She claims she knows nothing about the children hidden in the apartment of her friend Elizaveta.
She hears a man being tortured, a man who belongs to the resistance like her,
She opens her legs and offers sex in return for Dmitri's freedom.
Jules accepts and they agree to meet the following day for a nice intimate dinner.
Now we see Jules again talking to the camera about his obsession for Olga,
and then Olga confessing her fear of pain and cries, ashamed of her cowardice.
At home Jules denies cooperating with the Nazis to round up Jews, an event that
seems to horrify his wife Agnes.
She is also worried about what will happen to collaborationists if Germany loses.
Before his date with Olga, Jules takes his
son Emile for a walk. Emile confesses that he doesn't like the Germans and Jules
is scolding him when two members of the resistance approach from behind and shoot him in front of his son.
(This means that the "interview" that we have seen must have been taken in the otherworld).
Olga is waiting in vain for him. She is taken back to her cell.
Then we see Helmut speaking to the camera.
He is a highly educated German aristocrat, from a family of military officers and intellectuals, a fan of Russian literature, who has become a high-ranking officer of the feared Nazi SS.
This one too looks like it was made with a cheap videocamera.
He grew up during the years of hyper-inflation,
Hitler gave him hope that Germany could build a paradise on Earth,
and he bears a grudge against Jews and communists, the obstacles to that goal.
After his mother's death, he sells their vast mansion and park, and his agent tells him that they were lucky to find a buyer, since people now buy homes in South America, not in Germany (Germany is being bombed).
Helmut resents that people, including his agent, are taking for granted that Germany will lose the war.
Helmut wears his uniform, ready to leave his family's ancestral home for the last time, but a friend comes desperate that the soldiers are arresting
family of the Jewish woman who is taking care of his disabled brother.
Helmut reluctantly intervenes and saves the woman but allows her elderly uncle and aunt to be deported.
Helmut is appointed by Hitler's minister Himmler in person to lead an anti-corruption campaign in concentration camps, where rumors had it that officers were stealing. Himmler even gifts him a ring inscribed with a Nazi swastika.
Meanwhile in the concentration camp a brutal German warden beats up a
barracks leader because one of something that one of the inmates has done.
Olga, who has been deported there, shares a bed with a woman who at night prays in Hebrew, and so she
realizes that Rosa is a Jew even though the Germans haven't realized it.
The conditions in the camp are so horrible that when a female prisoner dies the
other inmates are only preoccupied with stealing her belongings (Olga takes the boots).
One day she recognizes Janek and Danik, the two Jewish children for which she ended up in jail.
She is heartbroken that despite her sacrifice they ended up arrested.
She takes the children in her barracks and they share the bed with her and Rosa.
The warden welcomes Helmut and jokes about his goal of exterminating 10,000 people per day.
Helmut is introduced to the details of the extermination process.
The warden shows him pictures of truckloads of dead bodies.
Helmut is fully aware of what is going on in the camp.
has heard that Helmut carried out a similar function at another camp, and the warden of that camp was executed for corruption.
Krause tries to defend the men who steal but Helmut calmly repeats what his orders are, and those include executing anyone who broke the rules.
One day Helmut meets an old friend, Dietrich, who has returned from the front
with a bunch of Russian books stolen from a library.
Talking to the camera, Olga informs us that she was assigned to work in the
warehouse, where they sorted out the belongings of the exterminated Jews and
were able to steal a little.
Talking to the camera, Helmut tells us that everybody was stealing, especially in the warehouses. The officers had found an endless source of income: the victims of the gas chambers.
One day Helmut inspects the warehouse and recognizes Olga: she was an old
sweetheart of his. They met in Italy as two young
A silent flashback shows us their vacation as if it were an amateur video (a woman kisses the camera).
Helmut tells us that
one day she left without saying a word. He kept writing but she never replied.
Olga then tells us that she went back to her future husband, a prince who was jealous of Helmut's letters even though she never replied.
Helmut tells us that he picked Olga as his personal housekeeper.
One day he calmly orders her to clean his house, take a shower and get into bed;
but, exhausted, she falls asleep.
One day the barracks leader took the children away from Olga and Rosa. Olga is
happy because the leader can hide them and feed them appropriately.
Helmut tells us that he is shocked that Olga cannot see the benefit and inevitability of exterminating the Jews.
Olga continues serving Helmut and hears from the radio that the Germans are losing.
Olga suddenly enjoys a much better life, with plenty of food and even cosmetics.
Helmut shows her the video of when they met in Italy.
Olga tells us how puzzled she is that Helmut became what he became.
One night Dietrich shows up drunk and delirious, aware that Germany is losing.
Possibly influenced by that episode,
Helmut plans to leave for South America with Olga and obtains a German passport for her: their "paradise" now is a colony founded by Germans in South America.
She is so grateful that she starts repeating sentences of Nazi propaganda like
that Germans are a superior race: he stops her and screams that those are lies.
Olga now has trouble with the other inmates who resent her new aristocratic attitude: she refuses to eat their disgusting food.
Helmut has concluded his investigation and has evidence that Krause is a thief and has tolerated widespread theft.
Krause tries in vain to explain that Hitler's "paradise" is impossible without
Helmut, however, is stopped by his superiors, who order to stop the investigation.
This reinforces his feeling that order is disintegrating at all levels.
He tells Olga to be ready to leave. She asks to take
the two Jewish children with them but Helmut replies that it's impossible.
Then Helmut calls Dietrich and asks him to be the one who travels with Olga to te border.
Krause commits suicide.
Enemy bombers are approaching. The
barracks leader prepares the women who are sick for the gas chamber.
Olga's best friend Rosa is one of them.
Olga wears her number and walks with the
multitude that is marched towards the chamber.
Helmut is calmly waiting in his office, smoking a cigar while a bomb blows up the window.
The three protagonists now face the camera one after the other.
Jules tells us that he has regrets.
Helmut instead tells us that he has no regrets: he still believes in Hitler's paradise even if Germany lost the war.
Olga tells us in tears that she doesn't know what made her take Rosa's place.
She knows she has sinned and now she only fears God.
A new narrating voice, a male voice, tells her that she has nothing to fear
and to enter.
The film ends with a liberated Rosa walking away with the Jewish children.
The Italian film
Il Peccato/ Sin (2019) is a biopic of Michelangelo.
Dorogie Tovarishchi/ Dear Comrades (2020) is a historical drama about the 1962 massacre of striking workers in Novocherkassk.
(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx) |
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