Ballade van een soldaat
Grigori Chukhrai / SUHH, 1959 / 89 min.
One of the major post-war Soviet films is Grigori Tsjoechraj’s Ballad of a Soldier. The director, who was a 19-year-old, front line soldier himself, paints a lyrical, humanistic portrait of Aljosja, a soldier on leave on his way to his mother. But first he helps his fellow travellers.
For Russians it is still the benchmark: the Second World War during which an estimated 24 million Russian soldiers and civilians died.
During the Stalin era, films about The Great Patriotic War were intended as heroic depictions of Stalin’s efforts, those of his generals and the collective sacrifices of the Russian people. Tsjoechrai Ballad of a Soldier (Ballada o soldatje) opted for a different approach: yes, private Alyosha is a hero – he single-handedly destroyed two German tanks – but he is mainly human.
Ballada o soldate
Russia, 2021: in the wake of Putin’s latest election victory, reforms seem further away than ever. How different things were in the late 1950s, when Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet Union’s new leader following the death of Stalin, gave an impulse for change. This period, which came to be known as the ‘thaw’, gave rise to classics such as Ballad of a Soldier (1959, Grigorii Chukhrai) and The Cranes Are Flying (1957, Michail Kalatozov); a new generation of filmmakers (Tarkovsky, Shepitko) also stepped into the spotlight.