Monday, April 18, 2011

Ballad of a Soldier/Ballada o soldate (1959)

Alyosha, the young World War II soldier in Ballad of a Soldier, and Shura, the equally young girl, meet as stowaways on a train, the war set aside for a moment. The two of them are impossibly innocent, their faces smooth and childlike, shining softly. The whole movie is like this, a simple and beautiful song. The Russian camera loves to sink down so that it can peer upward at its subjects, almost shyly--the effect, though, is not of a demure glance but a fully orchestrated requiem, the sky filling the background, the Earth curving into the distance.

The size of everything around them--particularly the deprivations of the war, the ragged gaping holes and tired faces, rutted roads, the houses turned inside-out--is matched by their big round eyes, gazing at one another--but the soldier wants to gaze at his mother: Rather than accept a medal for bravery, he had decided to take a short leave to fix her roof. The war follows him, tugging at his sleeve the whole way. It's a sentimental film, but so honest in the effort that you're willing to let it shine like the young lovers glowing like Old Hollywood, Soviet-style.

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