For Reel

Ballad of a Soldier (1959)
July 29, 2016, 6:09 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Grigory Chukhray
4 Stars
Ballad of a SoldierThat Ballad of a Soldier focuses on the farewell tour of a genuinely good person and soldier could have easily played as condescending. Certainly an educated (or simply empathetic) audience was aware of the great devastation and loss of war without this sort of artistic manipulation. But writer/director Grigoriy Chukhray wisely positions the film as not a polemical anti-war story, but a beautifully understated, humanist narrative about earthly beauty. For a story so dire, the picture focuses on the pleasures of a reunited couple, a burgeoning young love, a son’s love for his mother, and so on—that these are all short-lived encounters certainly renders them bittersweet, but their very sweetness is key. Without perverting the chaos of battle for long stretches or arguing against violence, the film makes its most compelling case: war is in direct opposition to everything that makes life beautiful and worth living. Beyond the simple, ingenious narrative, the cinematography of Vladimir Nikolayev and Era Savelyeva is poetic and graceful, often using super-impositions in a way that remarks on the universality and primacy of the story being told (human empathy, the film suggests, is as natural as the trees or wheat fields). That Ballad of a Soldier goes relatively light on the devastation removes the visceral shock of a violent end, but Chukhray is confident enough to know that the audience can fill in the blanks.

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