Mikhalkov’s Burnt by the Sun
In the tradition of passions plays of a century ago that illustrated the age-old inequalities of unchallenged intrinsic power wielded by a single entity. This is the story of absolute authority and how well earned past loyalties have elapsed and betrayed by fear and replaced with paranoia. Burnt by the Sun, a 1994 film by Russian director and actor Nikita Mikhalkov, the long film even with a tendency to meander, carries the distinction of being the first noteworthy anti-Stalin film produce in post-Communist Russia.
While the subject of matter of post revolution in Russia is not a new platform for addressing the thesis of Stalin’s dictatorial regime, what is interesting and original is the ability and opportunity for Mikhalkov to openly criticize the past without apparent fear of reprisal.
The antagonistic and customary undiscriminating maltreatment launched at the history of the Soviet era has served to strengthen the political movement in late 19th-century Russia that sought to bring about a just new society by destroying the existing one through acts of terrorism and assassination.
The obvious resentment of modern Russian film-makers toward the concept of socialism has not prevented them from producing a considerable number of films about Russia’s past during the past decade. For the most part, the directors of these films have sought to outdo one another in depicting the agonies of Soviet history.
The tale of the films begins in 1936 Russia, slightly less than two decades following the Communist Revolution. This point in time is seated in the midst of General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union’s Central Committee Joseph Stalin’s era murderous dictatorship. The main characters; a well heeled and socially content Colonel Sergueiv Kotov, a military hero of the Bolshevik revolution, his young beautiful wife Maroussia and their six-year old daughter Nadia are established in peaceful yet sheltered existence from the rest of post revolutionary Russia. Their surroundings are idyllic and rustic, all expected from yearly sabbatical.
However, the untroubled setting is soon disrupted by the untimely entrance of Dimitri; an old love of Kotov’s wife Maroussia, a young entertainer of a man, grew up with Kotov’s wife’s family. Ironically, 10 years ago, Dimitri served under Kotov and hence was ordered away on duty. The motives of such decision was suspect to say the least, but now Dimitri, of unknown means and purpose, has returned with a tacit mission. Even while pleasantries were exchanged, adolescent amusements offer and lover’s memories revisited, Dimitri had assumed the task of arresting Kotov for espionage under order from Stalin. Rather paradoxical since Kotov was openly very patriotic, dedicated to the State of the Soviet Union to the extent of carrying a photograph with him of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.
The tale ends as it presents Kotov slowly and tactfully being removed from his relaxed and filled with humor semi-retirement. Obviously, this story being about Stalinist Russia, the closing stages will not reach a cheerful finish. The film has effectively taught us just how brutal those murderous years were and the insanity on which it was all based. The audience is presented with the beauty of happy, content lives crushed by the demands of Joseph Stalin. Directly, in the conclusion, we are shown Kotov, a heroic courageous, dedicated and loyal soldier of Russia who, having devoted a lifetime to serving his motherland, is ultimately destroyed by a fellow soldier.
Despite Kotov’s threats to contact Stalin directly, witnesses are shot, he is badly beaten and eventually executed. Whether a deeper plot envisioned by Stalin existed or not, the plan took the lives two loyalist, from grief, Dimitri commits suicide.
Unlike most depictions of this time period that display the horrors in surfeit, Burnt by the Sun has clearly focused on presenting a genuine sharp critique of Stalinism. Much of the command of this film is due to the restrained manner in which Mikhalkov integrates a forbidding significance into the script. His clear offering of allowing all the humanity of the characters develop first, in complete humor and visual beauty, before letting them fall prey to their fate.
Symbolism plays a key part in Burnt by the Sun. Some of it, while images are subtle and obscure, imagery is left up to the viewer to determine how literally to take several instances of magic realism. Mikhalkov ensure that his central thesis is so strong and conveyed in such a manner that it’s impossible to overlook or be misunderstood for another point.
Director Nikita Mikhalkov is candid about the definitive meaning of his film by dedicating it to “everyone who was burnt by the sun of the Revolution.” (Bulavka, 1997, p139) This movie is very much an attack on the policies and paranoia of Stalin. The chilling final scenes emphasize the theme as we come to realize just how far-reaching the dictator’s grasp was, and how insecure even the most loyal patriots were.
One result, however it was intended, has been that both Russian audiences and the film-makers communities have tended to grow weary of the traditional national cinema preoccupation with its themes and obsessions. All the reason more Burnt by the Sun., was met with an enthusiastic reception not only in Russia but also in the West, (eventually receiving an Oscar.) Burnt by the Sun uses the medium of film to pose social questions and explore social relationships with some attempts to combine opposing segments of radically different style and presentation.
In many ways, Burnt by the Sun is presented by Mikhalkov as an intense pathos that rivals any cinematic present day effort. The film presents a challenge to the main trends in post-Soviet Russian cinema. Traditionally, film-making in Russia is dominated by the realism in the democratic classification therefore advancing tired themes. Clearly, the Russian audiences have suffered for a realistic candid character that deals with the important dilemma of the moral duality of man. If not with the times in which he is currently living but all times that follow.
However, the only criticism of the production is the over-emphasized methodical process of reaching the main point of the story. The overall finale primarily impacts the audience due to the beginning of the film is subdued, therefore setting up a climatic end. The crux is essential yet distant for it takes an extremely long time for it to be enjoyed by the audience.
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In the tradition of passions plays of a century ago that illustrated the age-old inequalities of unchallenged intrinsic power wielded by a single entity. This is the story of absolute […]