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Monday, October 21, 2013

Ballad of A Soldier (1959) d.Grigori Chukhrai

Zhanna Prokhorenko plays the love interest Shura in Ballad of a Soldier, the 1959 Russian film directed by Grigori Chukhrai

































Movie Review
Ballad of A Soldier (1959)
d.Grigori Chukhrai
Criterion Collection #148

  Can we talk for a second about the other blogs that are also watching the Criterion Collection in a comprehensive fashion?  Criterion Reflections is doing it chronologically.  He's been at it since 2009 and he writes ridiculously comprehensive reviews that I can barely get through myself.  Here's his intro for this movie, Ballad of A Soldier- a 1959 Russian film about a soldier coming home for a brief leave during World War II to see his beloved Mother:

Ok so this is just the first paragraph:

Ballad of a Soldier is a pleasantly accessible and emotionally powerful meditation on the effects of war on a society's common folk that probably earns its status as an "important classic and contemporary film" (i.e. part of the Criterion Collection) as much for the circumstances of its original release and historic significance as for it's cinematic achievements. It's a handsome production, skillfully rendered and performed with impeccable sincerity by a very photogenic cast - even the rough-hewn peasants, tragic victims and a small number of unsympathetic characters, presented to us as examples of weakness and faltering integrity, have a noble glow to them. A few scenes show technical prowess, most memorably an early overhead shot of tanks pursuing a running soldier that flips upside down as the action passes directly underneath the camera, and a dreamy montage reverie later in the film in which two would-be lovers, now parted by circumstance and ever-increasing miles, speak tenderly to each other in their own thoughts words of affection that they never dared speak to each other. But these effects, as moving and genteel as they unquestionably are, might not in themselves have won the enduring respect and admiration that they have if the film itself hadn't emerged at a particularly critical time - the late 1950s "thaw" in Soviet media censorship and US-USSR relations that took place after the passing of Stalin but before the Cold War ramped up again in the early 1960s with the construction of the Berlin Wall, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the entry of the USA into the Vietnamese conflict. (Criterion Reflections)

   Holeee shit- he goes on like that for the equivalent of another four or five paragraphs, leaving one with the existential question of what there is left to say.  I'm just come out and say it- it's an enjoyable movie, but there can't be more then 500 people in the whole world who would actually sit down and watch this bad boy.  Maybe I'm wrong, but the Criterion Collection page for Ballad of a Soldier has 67 "Likes".  67.  Out of everyone on Facebook.

  Here's another example of a serial Criterion Collection blogger, reviewing this same film:

Russia, historically speaking, has cemented themselves as a stark contradiction to the American film style. Whether it be the prolific Man With A Movie camera, or the entirety of Eisenstein's ouevre, narrative dissonance and non-linear editing are their thing, so when I approached Ballad of a Solider, I assumed these would be traits of the film, however, within only moments of viewing the clearly melodramatic film, I was baffled to find its clearly American composition. Between long reaction shots, use of music to emphasize emotion and the focus of redemption within the narrative, Ballad of A Soldier is not entirely Russian in its composition. Now that by no means makes this a terrible piece of cinema, in fact, it is quite great and clocking it at just under ninety minutes, the film is accessible and earnest. Furthermore, the films is neither a clear condemnation of war efforts, nor is it set out in praising the validity of warfare. The narrative of Grigoriy Chukhray's film, which he both wrote and directed, is as the title suggests about a soldier and is certainly a ballad at that, considering its lyrical nature. It focuses on one character and his vision of a slowly eroding nation, one that evolves from foolish youthful ignorance to adult disillusionment. If it were not for films like Forbidden Games and Ivan's Childhood, I would define this as one of the greatest coming of age tales ever composed, but mind you if I ever were to make a list of the top ten, it would certainly make the list.  (Cinemalacrum)

 Seriously though, again that's a single paragraph.  In my experience, people reading on the web are comfortable with paragraphs that are maybe four, five six sentences long, and they want a picture on top.  I also disagree with the actual opinion ventured by the second guy.  If you watch When Cranes Fly- which is like two number removed in sequence from Ballad of A Soldier, it's obvious that Russian Cinema isn't simply the silent films of Eisenstein.  For that matter, if you watch Ivan the Terrible it is clear that one of the main influences on his work is Walt Disney and you can't get more American then that.

  It's also worth mentioning that Chukhrai is a one hit wonder- there is a huge difference in the Criterion Collection directors who have upwards of ten or more titles, vs. the one hit wonders of world cinema who make a single appearance and vanish.

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