Ballad of a Soldier is a feel-good film, which dwells at length into the nobility of Mother Russia: she had so many children she could spare for the Great Patriotic War. Of course there were gulags too. The film is however concerned for soldiers barely out of their teens. Our hero is Alyosha Skvortsov (Vladimir Ivashov) is one such. His is the story of sacrifice. Ballad of a Soldier is all about giving an identifiable face and context to one who ends up as an unknown soldier.
Filmed in 1958 and released the following year, is a product of the post-Stalin Soviet era. It stands as dynamic proof that an apolitical film could be made despite of an oppressive regime had its grip thoroughly on the minds and bodies of the people.
The story of the film is an odyssey. An elderly, melancholy woman walks along a bleak landscape and stops. She is the mother of a Russian hero whose remains are buried in a distant land, identified only as an unknown Russian soldier. It has been two years since she has seen him and she knows everything about him till he was sent to the front. The flashback follows.
Our hero is Alyosha Skvortsov (Vladimir Ivashov), assigned an humdrum job of a field observer, manning a radio device from a solitary foxhole. But with such intrepid advance of the Germans he is frantically reporting to his unit two tanks bearing directly down upon him. He holds his position until it becomes clear that the lead tank intends to run over his position. So what does he do? He turns and fires on the lead tank with his rifle. One good turn deserves another. Is it not? So he knocks out both tanks and becomes a hero!
His unit commander would like to recommend him for military decoration. But Alyosha wishes to return home to see his mother and help her fix a leaky roof. The commanding officer allows him six days leave – two days travel each way and two days to complete the repair.
Such a journey is a journey in hope as with the soviet style of hope, to co-mingle with those of several others of various ethnic hues and scars of service for the motherland. Then of course he Alyosha has to bribe a soldier in order to hitch a ride on a freight train. He meets another stowaway- a beautiful dark-haired young woman.
She is Shura (Zhanna Prokhorenko), who claims to be traveling to meet her boyfriend. Soon enough they recognize they are cut of the same cloth in hope and goodness. Despite several disruptions they catch up with one another and they know they are made for each other.
But duty demands their ultimate sacrifice. He has barely reached home hugged his mother before he is back to the front again.
The story is well-paced, rolling along inexorably like the rhythm of the wheels of the trains.
Directed by Grigori Chukhrai
Produced by M. Chernova
Written by Valentin Yezhov
Starring Vladimir Ivashov
Music by Mikhail Ziv
Cinematography Vladimir Nikolayev
Editing by Mariya Timofeyeva
Running time 88 min.
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