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Interesting Soviet era film
on July 11, 2010
I have to say that I appreciate this film more than I really enjoyed it. Film historians will find a lot to appreciate, too, more than I did.
I feel compelled to give my honest impression of the film, for those who may be interested in buying it. What interested me, personally, was the glimpse inside Soviet society. I found their clothing, their faces, their homes, their attitudes very interesting. This film was made at the height of the Cold War when Russians were still considered to be very much our enemies. Here we see people who look a lot like us, and seem to have the same set of human passions and problems. That may seem obvious to us, now, but as one who remembers keenly the anti-Russian attitudes of those days, I found this probably the most interesting aspect of the film
The story is very human, and shows the horrors and hardships of war, especially on those left behind. It focuses on one young woman, Veronika, or "Squirrel" as her boyfriend, Boris calls her.
We see her before the war, when she and Boris are carefree and she dreams happilly of their wedding and life together. Then the war breaks out and Boris volunteers. From then on, Veronika suffers one loss after another and the carefree, rather capricious young girl quickly falls into shock and depression.
What I found most moving was the way the family of Boris took her in and cared for her, when she lost her parents. Boris' father is marvellously played and for my money was the star of the film. I also loved Boris' grandmother, the sweet old Babushka.
What probably kept me from really loving the film was the leading character, Veronika. I didn't find her to be a very sympathetic person. After pledging her undying love to Boris, she suddenly married his cousin, a concert pianist who was very much in love with her. I could understand that she was frightened and needed protection but what didn't compute for me was the terrible way she treated him after the wedding, even telling him that she wished he had never been born. Eventually she chased him into the arms of a loose woman and it was revealed that he had bribed his way out of military service. The film was clearly telling us that he was a bad guy. However he was consistently loving and kind to Veronika so I actually found myself more sympathetic to him than to her. I hate to say it but I didn't find the actress who played Veronika particularly interesting or attractive either. (Spare me your nasty comments!)
There are some striking scenes. My favorite was when the pianist played feverishly on his Steinway for Veronika during a bombing. Another is the scene when Boris is shot and dies, clutching a birch tree as he goes down, with thoughts of an imaginary wedding with Veronika spinning in his mind.
I may be nitpicky to expect the plot to have more psychological reality but that's the way I saw it. If you are a serious film student and/or love Russian culture then you will probably love this movie. Of course there are always those who are easily impressed by obscure foreign films, especially if they win the Palm d'Or.