Burnt by the Sun, Russian Movie with International Awards
Since we left Soviet Union I don’t follow really close cultural news from there. I prefer to embrace the culture of a country I live in, as it helps tremendously with learning of a new language and also with physical and mental accommodating in a new place.
Still, some movies and songs from my old Motherland get to my attention and I even buy them on line to watch sometimes.
Not a new movie
The movie I am going to review here is not a new movie, it is Burnt by the Sun (Russian: Утомлённые солнцем, Utomlyonnye solntsem), a 1994 film by Russian director and actor Nikita Mikhalkov. The film received the Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, among many other honors.
The first scene of the movie might seem strange as you understand it only at the end of the movie. I don’t want to open the cards right here, as every watcher should comprehend a movie on his own. I’ll just say that the first scene gives an uncomfortable feeling of a threatening of some kind, though you are not able to explain it yet. The whole movie is an alternation of idle if not idealistic scenes with unexplainable tense arousing moments, like Soviet tanks going through a wheat field, or a ball lightning going unnoticed through the house...
The setting opens in 1936, just before Joseph Stalin's Great Purge. Sergei Kotov (Nikita Mikhalkov), an idealistic communist and honored hero of the Russian Sivil War, is enjoying his day off in his wife’s family’s country cabin, or rather a pretty big summer house, “dacha”. His wife Maroussia (Ingeborga Dapkūnaitė), their daughter Nadia, and Maroussia's large and eccentric family of intelligent ex-nobles are shown very descriptively.
Into this idyllic day comes Mitya (Oleg Menshikov), a former family friend who was Maroussia's lover before his sudden disappearance. The family is rejoicing at his visit and a lazy, serene and happy summer day is moving on. However, soon we understand that despite his humorous, friendly nature Mitya has come to this house with a secret agenda. Mitya now works for the Secret Police, or NKVD, and has an order to arrest General Kotov under false charges of spying for the German and Japanese governments.
This is revenge to some extent, as the reason why he left Maroussia was that Kotov forcibly recruited him into the NKVD many years ago. Mitya was then sent to Paris to spy on Russian emigrants. As a result, Mitya hates Kotov, whom he blames for taking away both Maroussia and his own faith in God. Kotov, however, views Mitya as "a whore" who was "bought and paid for" by the Soviet State. He is certain that Mitya's plans to arrest him are nothing more than a personal vendetta. Because of his enormous popularity and his close relationship with Stalin, Kotov is sure that the regime will never dare to touch him.
However, a black car filled with NKVD agents arrives to arrest him. Nevertheless, Kotov's cool, officer's pride remains unshaken. He is still sure that all this is just a mistake and his personal friendship with Stalin will help to clear it.
However, when he tries to leave the car, the NKVD agents beat him. In horror, Kotov realizes where the decision to arrest him must have come from. With his faith in the system shattered, a bloodied Kotov weeps inconsolably. Mitya, who has obviously seen this happen to many men, remains unmoved. The car drives on until a massive poster of Stalin shields it from view.
A postscript reveals that General Sergei Kotov was convicted of espionage and shot. Maroussia was also arrested and died in the GULAG. Both sentences were later overturned during the Khrushchev thaw. Their daughter Nadia is described as having survived and as currently working as a music teacher in Kazakhstan. Mitya - as the last scenes of the movie reveal - committed suicide.
The film was praised and criticized, but no matter what, Burnt by the Sun remains a truthful description of that time, when people did believe with their whole hearts in fair socialism and future communism. People did not realize (with some exceptions that were either keeping themselves silent or were imprisoned), that they were just brainwashed by soviet communist propaganda.