Ballad of a Soldier DVD
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Directed by Grigori Chukhrai
Produced in 1959
Main Language - RUSSIAN with English subtitles
Vladimir Ivashov, Zhanna Prokhorenko
One of the great ‘quiet’ war films, Ballad of a Soldier was released during a pivotal period not only in the history of Soviet film but also in the wider aesthetic development of European cinema. In France, the years 1959 – 1960 saw the release of the first French New Wave films such as Godard’s Breathless, Truffaut’s Four Hundred Blows and Chabrol’s Le Beau Serge. In Italy, Visconti’s Rocco and His Brothers, Antonioni’s L’Avventura and Fellini’s La Dolce Vita were all produced during the same period.
Winner of a special prize at Cannes 1960 where it was praised for its ‘high humanism and outstanding quality’, Chukhrai’s lyrical war drama is very much in the tradition of Mikhail Kalatozov’s The Cranes Are Flying (1957) in its calculated eschewal of the glorious and epic representation of the ‘Great Patriotic War’, its foregrounding of the individual cost of war, the small acts of kindness and courage.
The film opens with a spectacular, formally stunning sequence detailing how a young Russian soldier Skvortsov (Vladimir Ivashov) single-handedly fends off two German tanks on the battlefield. As Skvortsov runs away from the oncoming tank, the camera, already at a skewed angle, tilts vertiginously so that he is upside down in shot.
As a reward for his bravery, the 19 year-old Private is awarded a medal which he exchanges for a chance to return home to visit his mother. As he travels back, far from the front, he encounters the devastation of his war-torn country, comes to the aid of ordinary civilians and even falls in love along the way.
Skvortsov’s final, short meeting with his mother is beautifully shot. As mother and son approach one another Chukhrai builds a musical crescendo only to present their wrenching embrace in complete silence. It is a sequence which confirms Chukhrai’s film as more than deserving of comparisons with the war films of more celebrated Eastern European filmmakers such as Wajda and Tarkovsky, indeed it predates the latter’s debut film Ivan’s Childhood (1962), perhaps the definitive war film of the Thaw period.
The winner of the 1960 Palme d’Or at Cannes, Ballad of a Soldier is a deeply moving romantic drama set in war-torn Russia. In the midst of the Second World War a young soldier begins the arduous journey eastward, meeting a variety of people who will change his life forever. Boasting a moving script and impressive performances, the film also features outstanding black and white cinematography that adds great power to Chukhrai’s vision of life during wartime.
Publisher: Nouveaux Pictures
Length: 89 mins
Aspect ratio: 4:3
Format: DVD B&W
Released: 29th January 2007
Cat No: NPD1042
- Interview with Grigory Chukhrai
- Picture Gallery.