Tuesday, December 29, 2015

"Burnt by the Sun": Russian tragic satire set during Stalin's Great Purge

Burnt by the Sun”(1994, “Utomlyonnye sointsem” or  “Wearied by the Sun”) directed by Nikita Mikhalkov, is a Russian satirical drama compressed into one summer day in 1936, in the form of a Sophocles tragedy.  The film manipulates the political conflicts of Stalin’s “Great Purge”.  But the film will be very difficult to follow for those not acquainted with the details of pre-WWII Soviet history.
The central character is Russian Colonel Kotov (played by the director), who lives a somewhat privileged (if socialized) life at a dacha with his loving family while he tries to mediate a Stalinist attack on a local wheat harvest. His avocation is that of a classical pianist, which could seem to open the film to explore the notorious Soviet suppression of the work of their composers for political purposes. A former colleague but underground rival Mitya (Oleg Menshikov) arrives, and soon Kotov suspects his former friend, also a pianist (playing several pieces, including a Leoncavallo overture, the Liszt Liebestraume, and some Offenbach and Joseph Strauss) has a plot of political revenge against him.

This long (135 minute) film comes to a head in a field where Kotov is tortured in a car while a balloon lifts an image of Stalin over the wheat field. Mitka will commit suicide, and in a bizarre scene some ball lightning (referred to in the opening of the movie) moves from his bathtub out of the apartment and toward the Kremlin. Kotov will be executed, but pardoned later by Khrushchev posthumously just before Kennedy’s Berlin Wall and Cuban Missile crises.

The film has a sequel, shot in 2010, set on the Russian front during WWII.

The DVD (Sony Pictures Classics official site) compresses the screen size somewhat.  But the original film had a 1.66:1 aspect ratio.  The film won best foreign language film in the 1995 Oscars.

Wikipedia attribution link for "Russland Relief" by Lencer - "own work", used Generic Mapping Tools and ETOPO2-data for reliefsome Photoshop-edits by User:NordNordWest. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

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