It is hard to keep a good film maker down. Ukranian born Sergei Bondarchuk was fascinated by the process of film making when he was still in nappies. It was embedded deep in his DNA. Even in the Cold War years when budgets were slashed and Soviet censorship was all pervasive, he still managed to make a fine film. Although highly regarded in the Soviet Union it is still relatively unknown here, which is unsurprising given the political climate at the time. Things were at their most frosty between the super powers, and it was not long to the "Bay of Pigs". It struck a chord with home audiences still reeling from the 20 million losses of World War Two. A mind boggling number than mere words cannot explain. Russia suffered more than any other nation. People still remembered!
The film covers the story of one man during those cataclysmic years. Without giving too much of the story away, this stoic individual suffers awful personal loss and endures years as a captive of the Nazis, where he learns the arbitrary line that stood between life and death. For the survivor the question always remained. Why me? The question is asked that when you have lost all that is dear to you, just where do you go? The answer lay at Stalingrad, where the will power of a nation stopped the Nazi war machine. You simply have to go on living, and do what needs to be done.
The film showcases Bondarchuk's talents both as an actor, taking the lead role, and especially as a director. His fade outs and devices to convey the passage of time are artfully used, in the same way that Michael Powell did so memorably in his film "Edge of the World". Whilst the film certainly appeases the Soviet censors it is also lifted into the realms of cinematic art by the wonderful black and white cinematography. There are beautiful scenes of grain fields and water, with the sound of birdsong in the background, which are carefully juxtaposed against the madness of the all encompassing war. The horrors of this war are not avoided with its scenes of the Jewish extermination and the horrific treatment of Russian POWs, which pre-date "Schindlers List" by many years. This is a fine film that illustrates just how much a civilian population suffers during war, in the same way that Elem Klimov's more visceral "Come and See" did later. It seems likely that Klimov would have been influenced by the film.
The film has some worthy extras that are well worth catching. We see archive footage of author Mikhail Shokholov, whose novel was the basis for the film. There are also excerpts from a Russian documentary about Bondarchuk that includes a bit about "Destiny of a Man". Also included is a brief and graphic glimpse into the Soviet POW camps. Watch the film in Russian with English sub titles, the dubbed version is definitely not an option! Whilst the film makes for uncomfortable viewing at times it is a fine piece of cinema that deserves to be much better known. Highly recommended.