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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

BALLADA O SOLDATE / BALLAD OF A SOLDIER (1959)

Grigoriy Chukhray’s award-winning humanistic wartime romance has dated badly; a Soviet love story that’s curdled into LOVE STORY/’70 (and just as uncritically beloved). We follow a brave, honest, noble, sweet-natured, tall, blond youth from the ranks who’s been granted a brief furlough after his panic-stricken shots take out a couple of enemy tanks. But the trip home to Mom (he’s hoping to fix the roof) is jerry-rigged with too much uplift from the great Soviet Peoples & a puppy-love meet-cute with a brave, noble, sweet-natured, short, blond young civilian which becomes strong & true when tested on the journey. How many times can you almost miss a train? It’s certainly handsome to look at, but as one beautifully lit, over-composed shot follows another, it’s hard to find many believable moments. We’re uncomfortably close to those WWII Hollywood romances with Private Robert Walker, like SINCE YOU WENT AWAY/’44 or THE CLOCK/’45, right down to the heart-rending train departures. Those films, made in the moment with studio-built environments on backlot sets are stylistically all-of-a-piece. Here, the real locations turn legitimate sentiment coy, even cloying, with every emotional surge getting a plush music cue & a glowering sky. And when a real shard of sorrow & terror comes thru, like the unforced sobs from a mother separated from her son, it feels like a slap in the face, a refreshing one.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Soviet-Block films like Poland’s KANAL/’57 or the Czech Republic’s CLOSELY WATCHED TRAINS/’66 offer a lot more on similar subjects.

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