Bryan Honeycutt discusses Ballada o Soldate and the importance of Pease’s Foreign Film Festival

The movies being shown at this semester’s Foreign Film Festival are all windows into the human experience. Many reveal insights into what tempts us, what degrades us and what causes us to commit evil acts. The Russian film, Ballad of a Soldier (Ballad o soldate), presents a very different aspect of humanity.The movie begins with a woman passing through a busy street and walking towards the only road out of the village. Her back is to the cameras; she stares off at the distant city. The camera pans to the gray-white sky, and the narrator explains that she waits at the road, knowing her son will never return. Thus begins the story of Private Alyosha Skvortsov, her son.The film takes place during WWII while Nazis are still advancing on Russian soil. Alyosha, played by Vladimir Ivashov, is rewarded for an act of heroism. Rather than accept military decoration, he asks for leave to repair his mother’s roof. Along his way, he convinces a man to go back to his wife, and aides a beautiful Russian girl (Zhanna Prokhorenko) back to her home. These actions are done without hesitation, despite the delay they cause.Starting the film aware that the protagonist will die kills any chance for melodrama. It turns the movie’s focus from whether or not he will die to how he lives. The altruism Alyosha displays throughout his way home illuminates the joy of being alive. The audience grieves his death, but not without being moved by his goodness.Ballad of a Soldier was made when most foreign films were state, rather than privately-funded. State funding for cinema allowed directors to create artistic movies rather than those commercially viable. The writers, Yoshov and Chukrai, were nominated for the Academy Award’s Best Original Story and Screenplay. Ivashov won best actor in the British Academy Awards.As an amateur critic, I find it difficult to criticize the faults in films from movies made before I was born. It would be just as difficult to attack Homer for not using blank verse, or Shakespeare for not writing in contemporary English.What I can say, is that it is an excellent movie. It is moving without being overly sentimental. The filming is superb, opening with Alyosha’s mother looking out to the city, and ending the same way. It is another excellent example of cinema, and a fine addition to Dr. Pease’s lineup this semester.The film festival is continuing every Tuesday at 3:30 and 7 p.m. in the Evans building room 105. Admission is free to anyone interested. This Tuesday, Dr. Pease will be showing Rashomon by Akira Kurosawa. All students and faculty are invited. Until then, see you at the movies!

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