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The Thaw On Film
on 14 May 2007
This black and white Russian film, considered a popular classic in Russia, was made by Mosfilm in 1957 and reflects the period of the "Thaw", brought in after the death of Stalin in 1953 and particularly after the Secret Speech of Krushchev to the Central Committee of the CPSU in 1956. Thus, at one point, the female lead, Veronica, says, apropos of nothing, in conversation, that she is afraid of the police (meaning NKVD?); also, some ridicule is heaped on "fulfilling the Plan", which would never be heard in a Soviet film under Stalin! And the grandmother of a character going off to war in 1941 (when the film starts) crosses herself...The film covers the personal lives of a family and friends, particularly the beautiful and healthy Veronica (whose playful girlishness and occasional seriousness reminded me of a Soviet girlfriend I once had), her volunteer soldier fiance, Boris and the third part of the triangle, a young non-volunteering composer, all hit by large scale activity (war) rather than the reverse situation, as would have been the case in a Stalinist film in which the people would subordinate themselves without question to the ends of the State. The young composer is called Mark, always a Jewish name in Russia. The actor playing him has pronounced Semitic features; it turns out that he is both exempted from service through bribery and that he is unfaithful. Veronica leaves him but takes in a three year old orphan boy named Boris, whom she saves from being squashed by a truck...In the end, the war finishes and it becomes clear that Boris the fiance has been lost forever. Through her tears, Veronica sees the cranes flying again and a new life about to emerge. Again, a reference to wider issues, perhaps.
The film is highly stylized in many ways, artistically. It contains a dream or delusion sequence not unakin to that in Spellbound or, perhaps better, like the dreamlike sequences in the later Russian film epic, War and Peace, directed by Sergey Bondarchuk. As in many Russian films, music, particularly that of the late 1930's, plays a big part, : Katyusha, The March of Zanzegur, etc. This DVD appears to be of Chinese manufacture and one has the choice of Chinese or Russian dialogue and of Chinese or English subtitles. The English subtitles are fine, presumably the original Mosfilm or Sovexportfilm translation, but the English blurb on the DVD case is really funny: "his house fried,Parents died..." etc! Apart from that, though, this is a recommended film and the print is amazingly crisp for its age and provenance.