A War Remembered: Soviet Films of the Great Patriotic War

When you live near the graveyard, you can’t weep for everyone.
Russian proverb[1]

In April 1995, a month before the celebrations marking the fiftieth anniversary of V-E day, I was in Moscow researching the Russian cinema of another great war, World War I, the sparse fruits of which became an article entitled “A War Forgotten.”[2] After spending hours in the library, poring over newspaper accounts of that first war, I would return to my apartment and immediately switch on the television to watch the commemoration of the war that followed. Coverage was extensive and intelligent: interviews with World War II veterans, news coverage of the preparations for the festivities, and historical footage of those glorious and terrible days of heroism and anguish. The sheer quantity, and the quality, of the images and artifacts memorializing the second war, as compared to the first, struck me more powerfully than ever before.

As a longtime observer of the Soviet scene, I had watched the cult of the Great Patriotic War (as World War II was usually called in the USSR) for many years. Particularly remarkable to the outsider was the touching custom of newlywed couples making a pilgrimage to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier outside the Kremlin Wall in Moscow, the bride placing her bouquet by the eternal flame. By the 1990s, however, this was scorned as just another of the many empty rituals of Soviet power, something to be mocked, not practiced.

But although the rites of commemoration had long since been divorced from memory—indeed, even official memory had once again “changed,” with Joseph Stalin neatly excised from the fiftieth anniversary celebrations—World War II remains the “War Remembered” in the lands of the former USSR. Given that the USSR suffered the highest losses in the European theater (estimated at 20–27 million lives)[3] and bore the brunt of the German assault and the barbarousness of the German retreat for three long years, how could it be otherwise?

The groundwork for the mythologization of the war was quickly laid, whether to anticipate the victory against all odds or to explain calamitous defeat, we may never know. As Nina Tumarkin skillfully demonstrated in her landmark study The Living and the Dead, myth-making and cult-building have often obscured the “real facts” of the war. Tumarkin’s pathbreaking work on the origins and evolution of the war cult had one important shortcoming: although her coverage of the monuments of literature and the graphic and plastic arts was extensive and her analysis of these arts imaginative, her discussion of film was almost nonexistent.[4]

Yet, given the centrality of cinema in Soviet official culture—V. I. Lenin’s words, “Cinema is for us the most important of the arts,” adorned the movie theaters of the USSR—films were a significant part of Soviet memorialization of World War II. By tracing the evolution of the war film genre through analysis of selected examples of the best war films, this essay seeks to restore that omission. It also seeks to elucidate how these films served as a “counter-history” of the war that challenged official history, thereby subverting the state-sponsored cult.

Since the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, it has become more fashionable in scholarly circles to emphasize Russia’s connections to Europe and to Western culture, even during the Soviet period. Yet the Soviet cinema of World War II differed substantively from that of the Axis or even the other Allied Powers, right from the beginning, representing the different reality that the Soviet Union faced as, essentially alone, it sought to repel the world’s mightiest army on its own territory. These differences continued after the war. As we shall see, some Soviet directors used the genre of the war film not to support the dominant myth of the war as a time of uniform heroism and self-sacrifice but instead to resist it, at first subtly and then boldly. By resisting official history, these filmmakers were indirectly questioning the authority of the state.

As Peter Kenez and Richard Stites have noted, Soviet film production during World War II was quite small compared with American, British, and German production (as it had been throughout the 1930s, although for different reasons).[5] Unlike the film production of both the Axis and the Allies, Soviet cinema mainly focused on subjects directly related to the war, forty-nine of seventy titles produced from 1941 to 1945 (70 percent).[6] Historical dramas (notably Sergei Eisenstein’s 1944 Ivan the Terrible, which Stalin had commissioned) and filmed operas were the two other major wartime genres.

But quantities and percentages are just the beginning of the differences. Very few Soviet films made during the war concerned men at the front, or even women dutifully waiting on the “home front.” The reasons are simple: the carnage at the front, especially in the first year of the war, was so enormous that no amount of cheery Stalinist propaganda would hide it. Realistic depictions of that carnage were out of the question, for they would be far too demoralizing, especially given the defeatist tendencies apparent in the Western borderlands. As for “home front”—there really was none. Essential personnel were evacuated from European Russia to camps far from home; those left behind struggled to survive in the battle zones or perhaps worse, in the occupied territories.[7] The terror of the occupation could scarcely be exaggerated.[8]

Most Soviet wartime movies, therefore, attempted to convey this grim reality in the most positive way possible, by focusing on the exploits of the partisans, especially on the role of women in the resistance movement.[9] The new focus on heroines could be easily tied to the revival of national traditions, particularly the official return of “motherland” (rodina) as opposed to “fatherland” (otechestvo).[10] As the famous recruiting poster proclaimed: “The Motherland Mother Calls You” (Rodina Mat’ Vas Zovet). A powerful, red-garbed woman, with a stern and hynoptic gaze, beckoned. A mother’s call was impossible to resist, and women warriors were the protagonists in many films of the genre.

The canonical movie of the war years was Fridrikh Ermler’s She Defends the Motherland (Ona zashchishaet rodinu, a 1943 Mosfilm production released in the United States as No Greater Love).[11] In it, Ermler, a gifted director who had been coopted by the system,[12] developed what had become the prototypical narrative for the Soviet wartime fiction film, especially after the victory at Stalingrad in January 1943. Most of the movies made during the war spun some variation of this plot: halcyon days on the eve of war turn to terrible tragedy as bestial Germans kill husband/children/parents, with the woman (mother/wife/lover) who survives transformed into avenging angel. Because each of the great postwar works of Soviet cinema represents a dialogue (and sometimes a debate) with these conventions, She Defends the Motherland must be examined in detail.

The “she” in the title is Praskovia Ivanovna (also known as Pasha and Comrade P.). Praskovia’s husband is immediately drafted when war breaks out, but she does not despair. We see her organizing the evacuation of her village and calming frightened elders and confused children. Characteristically self-effacing, Praskovia gives others her place on the evacuation trucks and waits behind for the next convoy. Too late. She finds her husband’s corpse in a convoy of wounded men, and as she grieves, German troops enter the town. A German soldier seizes Praskovia’s baby son, shoots him, and runs him over with a tank. As this horror unfolds, Praskovia is dragged away and, apparently, raped. In the next cut, she wanders through the forest, blank-faced and tattered, eventually finding some refugees from her village. The pretty, vibrant young wife and mother has been transmogrified into the stone-faced icon of the “Motherland Mother” poster.

Praskovia quickly emerges from her nearly catatonic state to reassume a leadership role among the survivors. When the Germans approach to finish off the villagers, she picks up an axe and commands her neighbors to follow her into the fray: “Don’t run! . . . Kill them! Kill the beasts!” In a wonderfully staged scene of hand-to-hand combat, Pasha and her peasant-soldiers rout the German convoy. It is a remarkable moment, and unimaginable in Allied war films: one would be hard put to envisage any comparable American or British heroine rushing into battle, hacking Germans with an axe, with grim determination and not a sign of revulsion or remorse. “Comrade P.” has been born; as one villager remarks, “I guess we’ve become partisans.” Under Comrade P.’s leadership, the partisans become the scourge of the occupying army, attacking convoys, burning buildings, even kidnapping a general. Comrade P. eventually meets up with the German soldier who killed her son, and exacts poetic justice by running him down with his own tank.

Praskovia, like all the woman warriors of the genre, must remain pure, focused. Yet even socialist realist war movies made room for romance, though typically among the secondary rather than primary characters (a tradition begun in the legendary 1934 hit Chapaev, based on the civil war hero). The young lovers in She Defends the Motherland are a winsome pair, with endearingly human (if clichéd) traits. The girl is a silly chatterbox who talks too much when she and her boyfriend are out on reconnaissance. Her lover presses her for sex, but she holds out for marriage, a ceremony that Praskovia eventually performs as their “captain.” (Praskovia, without a trace of irony, offers them a captured German general as their “wedding present.”) But their happiness does not last—the young man, Zhenia, is coldly executed by the Germans near the end of the film.

Soviet socialist realist films, especially in the 1930s, were notorious for their lack of realism, particularly for their falsely upbeat tone (when considered against the backdrop of the Great Terror) and absurdly caricatured heroes and villains. Like other socialist realist heroines, Praskovia displays little depth of character, other than what Vera Maretskaia can impose on the stilted dialogue through her virtuosity as an actress. And yet we see how unexpectedly and quickly this apparently rigid aesthetic could evolve if exigencies required it. Praskovia’s ferocity and physical courage make her a far cry from the demure “cheerleaders” for Soviet power who dominated Soviet screens only a few years earlier. As far as the stereotyping of German villains is concerned, the German occupation of the USSR was, if anything, even more barbarous than portrayed on screen. No one could expect nuanced portrayals of the German invaders in wartime cinema, anywhere, and certainly not in the Soviet Union in 1943. The vicious, monocle-sporting, semi-hysterical, distinctly un-Aryan-looking killer would prevail in films throughout the war.

Cardboard characterizations notwithstanding, there are a few important, if subtle, deviations from the established standards of cinematic socialist realism evident in She Defends the Motherland that primarily represented state policy changes during the war. The first has to do with Stalin’s calculated risk of allowing religious symbols and allusions to reenter public life.[13] In this movie, we see Praskovia helping an old woman place her icon onto an evacuation vehicle. When one of the partisans is murdered by a captive German soldier, his last words are: “May the Lord forgive you,” and a cross is erected over his grave. The young lover refuses sex with her boyfriend, using the custom of Lenten sacrifice as an excuse. In the context of Stalinist society, even such fleeting references to religion represented major concessions to previous anti-religious policies and practices.

The second important concession that we see in this film is the expression of negative ideas by ordinary citizens. In the cinema of the 1930s, wreckers and saboteurs were shown attempting to undermine Soviet authority, but their actions were governed by the international anticommunist conspiracy. In She Defends the Motherland, the defeatists are motivated by genuine fear and genuine deprivation. In an extraordinary scene shortly after the ragtag survivors decide that they have been forced by circumstance to become partisans, they sit around their campfire to decide what to do next. One man grumbles, “Oh sure, at a time like this, we call a conference [twitting the endless meetings that characterized Soviet communism] . . . [There is] no bread, no food.” When others attempt to remonstrate with him, he counters: “I don’t say it will be pleasant under the Nazis, but we’re accustomed to that [emphasis added] . . . Don’t try to scare us . . . Did you see them hang everyone? Oh, sure, maybe the Communists and the Jews . . . Enough of this rotten Red paradise!” At this, Pasha has had enough, and she shoots him point-blank. As she walks away from his corpse, she intones, impassively, “While we live, we fight.”

Just as it would be a mistake to ignore this clear acknowledgement that not all Soviet citizens were rallying to the cause, so would it be a mistake to overstate its importance. After all, we see how quickly Comrade P. dispatches the defeatist. And in the end, despite the many partisans in the little band who have been killed by the Germans, positive and activist thinking rules. Praskovia’s loyal followers rescue her just as the hangman’s noose tightens around her neck. She lives to fight another day.[14]

All the Allied nations celebrated the end of the war by glorifying the heroism and sacrifices of their soldiers and citizens, but in the USSR, World War II was quickly objectified to the point of nonrecognition. Commemoration of the war, whether artistically or ceremonially, became a quasi-religious rite, especially pronounced after Stalin’s death in 1953 and the abrupt end of the Stalin cult. As Nina Tumarkin notes throughout The Living and the Dead, Soviet publicists, journalists, poets, and filmmakers had begun reimagining the war while it was going on, their propaganda becoming an intrinsic part of the “reality” of the war for future historians.

Indeed, Stalin was acutely aware of the opportunities the war held to cement his regime, should the USSR be so fortunate as to defeat the Germans. What other political leader would have had the foresight, as the catastrophe unfolded, to see how the loss of 27 million lives could be manipulated to his advantage? The first post-1945 war movies made this very clear, reflecting Stalin’s return to strict cultural and social control after the relative freedom of the war years. The many “mother-heroines” of wartime cinema had vanished. Women with spirit and initiative were no longer needed; they were replaced by the glorified “father-hero,” Stalin himself.

In no film was this rewriting of recent history clearer than the 1949 ode to Stalin entitled The Fall of Berlin (Padenie Berlina), directed by Mikhail Chiaureli, like Fridrikh Ermler a talented filmmaker who had become one of Stalin’s most ardent apologists. A big-budget film shot in color on Agfa film captured from the Germans, it focuses first and last on the father-hero, Stalin, showing how wisely and generously he guided his generals to victory (even the great Marshal Georgy Zhukov, whose reputation Stalin had been busily undermining since the end of the war). Despite the demands of the war, Chiaureli’s Stalin still has time to be a true father to his people. He is not too preoccupied or remote to encourage the romance of the worthy young lovers, the teacher Natasha and the Stakhanovite Alyosha. When the young man confides his doubts about Natasha’s feelings, the great Stalin advises him kindly: “Don’t worry and don’t be afraid of poetry. Love her and she will love you . . . [adding improbably] If she doesn’t fall in love with you, drop me a line.” But despite the inclusion of the wartime romance that was sugar to sweeten the politics, The Fall of Berlin is so transparently constructed as a prop to the Stalin cult that its love scenes, like its battle scenes, are clearly an afterthought. It is a panegyric, not a war movie; in Richard Taylor’s words, the film stands as the “apotheosis of Stalin’s cult of Stalin.”[15]

Chiaureli’s task in this film, which the Mosfilm studio proudly presented to Stalin on the occasion of his seventieth birthday in December 1949, was to update Stalin’s image in the face of the Cold War. Stalin was not only the leader of the largest country on the globe but a god and prince of peace. At the end of the movie, after Berlin has been taken, the heavens open up, and Stalin’s plane descends, bathed in sunlight, to the strains of a hymn in his honor. Stalin, garbed in white, emerges from the plane to take personal charge of postwar Europe, and triumphal music swells, as the choir sings praises of his courage and glory. This shameless display is, as Taylor has noted, a direct reference to Leni Riefenstahl’s portrayal of Adolf Hitler’s arrival in Nuremberg in Triumph of the Will (1935).[16] We now know who has triumphed, not Hitler but—Stalin.

Because of the role Stalin had assumed as the only surviving war hero, epitomized by The Fall of Berlin, there was no scope for the evolution of the war film genre until after his death in March 1953.[17] (During these hard times, the best directors practiced passive resistance to the regime by skillfully avoiding compromising assignments.) Not until Nikita Khrushchev’s “Secret Speech” in February 1956 did the “Thaw,” as this period of relative cultural relaxation was called, begin in earnest. Not surprisingly, after 1956, with de-Stalinization under way, a few first-rate Soviet directors took advantage of the cultural climate to meditate on the national tragedy cum victory. From the mid-1950s to the early 1960s, there were a number of interesting popular films made about the war, which Josephine Woll discusses in detail in her recent book about Thaw cinema, Real Images.[18]

There is, however, little disagreement among critics, whether Western or Soviet, that the enduring classics among the war films of this period are The Cranes Are Flying (Letiat’ zhuravli), The Fate of a Man (Sud’ba cheloveka), Ballad of a Soldier (Ballada o soldate), and Ivan’s Childhood (Ivanovo detstvo, distributed in the United States under the title My Name Is Ivan). The Cranes Are Flying, The Fate of a Man, and Ballad of a Soldier were released from 1957 to 1959 and are usually considered together, as films representing the early promise of de-Stalinization and Khrushchev’s cultural thaw. (They also launched the Soviet “New Wave” in cinema and were certainly influenced by trends in European filmmaking.) Andrei Tarkovskii’s Ivan’s Childhood (1962), on the other hand, represents the effective end of the Thaw, when Khrushchev began to tighten cultural controls once again in an unsuccessful attempt to appease the party hardliners who opposed his leadership.

Mikhail Kalatozov’s The Cranes Are Flying, widely seen in the West and deservedly praised (winning the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1958), subverts the tropes of the Soviet war film almost immediately.[19] Kalatozov lulls the viewer in the opening scenes, which start in the canonical way: the young couple Boris and Veronika (wonderfully played by Aleksei Batalov and Tatiana Samoilova, an Audrey Hepburn look-alike) exult in their innocent love. But when the announcement of war comes, it is clear that this will be a very different kind of movie. Boris cannot even be roused from his bed, and his cousin Mark’s first thoughts are about how he can wangle an exemption, since the “clever ones” surely should not have to go (Mark is a classical pianist). When Boris enlists, his father, Dr. Borozdin, upset and fearful for his son, seems to agree with Mark’s views. “At the age of 25 to be such a fool,” he laments. Veronika, too, is unhappy with Boris’s decision. Through a misunderstanding, Veronika fails to see Boris off at the station, and as days and weeks pass, neither she nor his family receive any letters. After Veronika’s parents are killed in an air raid, she is taken in by Boris’s family. She is so depressed by her parents’ deaths and her failure to make peace with Boris before his departure that the next time the air raid sirens sound, she refuses to go to the shelter.

At this point, The Cranes Are Flying becomes even more provocative in confounding audience expectations for the genre. As bombs fall in Moscow, Mark takes this opportunity to profess his love for Veronika. Although she resists his embraces and tries to run away, her efforts are fairly feeble. Indeed, as she conveniently faints, Mark carries her off, and the film cuts to a shot of Boris, the first time we have seen him since he left for the army, slogging through the mud on a highly dangerous reconnaissance mission.

Next, Mark and Veronika are shown marrying, which might be expected of an American girl who had lost her “virtue,” but sexual innocence was not particularly prized in Soviet culture, and loss of virginity was not seen as cause for immediate marriage. Therefore, Veronika’s continued passivity in her curious relationship with Mark brands her as much a “defeatist” as her cynical, shirker husband. The announcement of Veronika’s marriage to Mark is followed by the second and final cross-cut to Boris at the front. While attempting to rescue a wounded comrade, he is shot in the back by a sniper. In his dying moments, Boris imagines what his hoped-for wedding to Veronika would have been like.

The war continues; there has been no word of Boris’s death, and Veronika still waits for letters from him. The family—Mark, Veronika, Dr. Borozdin, and Boris’s sister Irina (also a surgeon)—have been evacuated from Moscow to Siberia. Veronika has been working as a nurse in the hospital, which is now receiving wounded men from the front lines at Stalingrad. We see the despair and anguish of the wounded and maimed, none worse than that of a young soldier who has received a “Dear John” letter from his girl. The other men, including Dr. Borozdin, sympathize with him, as Veronika listens in bitter shame: “Girls like that are worse than fascists”; “the shabby-hearted little sneak”; “women like her, we men despise them; there can be no pardon for her.” Veronika, like Anna Karenina before her, intends to bury her guilt under the wheels of a train, but unlike Anna, Veronika does not succeed. Instead, she rescues and adopts a war orphan, who just happens to be named Bor’ka (Boris).

At last, Veronika recovers her self-respect. She breaks with the womanizing Mark, who has bought his exemption from military service. When a soldier brings the Borozdin family the news that Boris was killed near Smolensk in the first year of the war, Veronika refuses to believe it. At war’s end, and film’s end, we see her waiting at the railroad station as soldiers pour off the trains into the arms of their loved ones, waiting, like so many millions of Soviet women, for the man who will never return.

This morally ambiguous and psychologically complex picture startled viewers and critics accustomed to the certitudes of socialist realism. The film became part of a wide-ranging social discourse.[20] Veronika is the protagonist, to be sure, but is she a heroine? Where is the moral center of the picture? What has happened to the courage, discipline, and sacrifice that everyone knew to be the foundations of victory? The cranes of the title are symbols of rebirth and hope, but is that enough of a positive message? Soviet films of the past had typically left no questions unanswered, let alone raised issues as troubling as these.

Fate of a Man and Ballad of a Soldier (both released in 1959, one at the beginning of the year, the other at the end) were more sentimental and less ambiguous than The Cranes Are Flying and were immensely popular with audiences. Because of their unabashed appeal to emotion, it is easy in retrospect to forget how truly revolutionary their emphasis on the individual Soviet citizen in wartime was in historical context. One might argue that, based on the titles, the “soldier” and the “man” were intended to be generic, but the characterizations, in a country where the personal was political, belie that interpretation. (We must also remember that the Russian language lacks a definite article, so these titles might just as accurately be translated as “fate of the man” and “ballad of the soldier.”)

Sergei Bondarchuk’s Fate of a Man was a screen adaptation of the eponymous story by Mikhail Sholokhov, which was written shortly after the war but remained unpublished until 1956.[21] Unlike the heroes in war movies made during Stalin’s final years, but like those in the wartime films such as She Defends the Motherland, Andrei Sokolov (memorably played by director Bondarchuk) is fighting the Germans to save his family and his nation, not the party or Stalin. At war’s end, he has survived a Nazi concentration camp as a POW, but his entire family—wife, two daughters, and a son—are dead. Like Veronika in The Cranes Are Flying, Sokolov adopts a war orphan as the foundation for rebuilding his shattered life.

Sokolov is a quiet hero. An ordinary man, not especially strong or brave, he does what has to be done, with complete absence of bravado. The simple honesty of Bondarchuk’s portrayal makes Sokolov’s sacrifices for his comrades—his murder of a fellow prisoner who is thinking about collaborating or his drinking contest with the camp’s commandant, which results in his getting extra rations—plausible rather than contrived. The one false note in the picture is the fact that returning Soviet POWs were more likely to be arrested as traitors than to be eagerly embraced by the Red Army, the redemptive fate that awaits Sokolov.

Better known in the West than Fate of a Man and at least as popular with Soviet audiences was the big hit of 1960, Grigorii Chukhrai’s Ballad of a Soldier.[22] This is the touching story, told in flashbacks, of a young soldier with less than one week’s leave trying to make his way back to his village to repair his mother’s roof. Not unexpectedly, given the well-established conventions of the genre, circumstances intervene en route to leave him with only a moment to embrace his mother before his leave is up. What is surprising is that these circumstances are not “events” so much as “moments.” If his intentions are thwarted, it is because of his own humanity, not German inhumanity.

We know from the beginning that the story will not have a happy ending, as it is told in a protracted flashback. The film begins with the iconic village mother, familiar to us from She Defends the Motherland, standing alone in the right foreground, back to the camera, staring up a road winding into eternity. “She is not waiting for anyone,” the voiceover narration informs us. Next, again in tribute to the iconography of Ermler’s film, we see the young soldier, being chased by a tank before he finally gets the courage to turn around and start firing. It is nineteen-year-old Alyosha Skvortsov, who requests that his bravery be rewarded not with a medal but with a home leave to help his mother. He is given six days: “four for the road, two for the roof.”

As Alyosha’s odyssey begins, his comrades press him with messages and gifts for their loved ones. At the various train stations, we catch snatches of the domestic and personal dramas behind the front lines. One of the most memorable and moving is that of the demobilized, disabled veteran afraid to face his wife as a cripple. His fears of rejection are confounded by his wife’s heartfelt joy at having him back, missing limb notwithstanding. Alyosha is too young to have learned to be selfish, and he tries to help people whenever he can, regardless of time lost. His connection missed, he jumps in a hay car, where he is joined by a young orphan girl, Shura, who claims to be trying to reach her “future husband,” a gravely wounded flyer. He misses the train again, disembarking to get water for Shura. He attempts to deliver a gift of soap to a comrade’s wife, only to discover that she is living with another man. He evacuates passengers from a train that has been bombed. But Alyosha’s kindnesses are often reciprocated along the way, as he hitches rides with strangers. He reaches home with just a moment to embrace his mother; his parting words are “I’ll come back, Mama.” But he does not return, and unlike the fate of Boris in The Cranes Are Flying, we never learn how he died. The image of his mother standing at the road, waiting, suggests that she does not know either, or that, like Veronika, she refuses to believe that he will not one day come home.

By the time Andrei Tarkovskii made his first feature film, Ivan’s Childhood, in 1962, the cultural climate was cooling rapidly, as Khrushchev struggled to salvage his eroding authority in the party hierarchy by adopting harsher attitudes toward freedom in the arts. It was not a propitious moment to launch the harshest, most morally complex vision of the war to appear on Soviet screens.[23] (Indeed, the story idea, based on the novella Ivan by Vladimir Bogomolov, had run into trouble even before Tarkovskii joined the project.[24] ) The movie tells the story of the last days of Ivan Bondarev, a twelve-year-old orphan, who is working as a reconnaissance scout for the Red Army. Ivan, a skeletal, preternaturally mature boy, is alternately coddled and exploited by the officers of the battalion. Lt. Colonel Griaznov is determined to send him away to a military boarding school (which Ivan vehemently opposes), while the pragmatic Captain Kholin does not mind using Ivan for “one last mission.” The child, who is “a bundle of nerves,” is tormented by recurring dreams of his mother in the sunshine moments before she is blown up before his very eyes, and by visions of eight young partisans tortured and shot by the Germans in the very cellar where he tries to sleep. “Avenge us!” is scrawled on the walls.

But the true nightmare is the waking world, the ruined landscape of villages and the muck of the murky swamps. This is a world populated by a deranged old man who hides in the rubble of his former home waiting for his dead wife to return—and by the corpses of Ivan’s comrades hanging on trees. It is also populated by soldiers torn between their desire to protect Ivan and to exploit him. Captain Kholin is likewise conflicted by his sexual desire for the young nurse Masha and his consciousness of the inappropriateness of his desire, given the disparity in age, rank, and, one would suspect, marital status.

The tale is told through two perspectives, Ivan’s and that of Lieutenant Gal’tsev. Little older than a boy himself, Gal’tsev functions as the film’s moral core. He strongly disapproves of the continued use of Ivan as a scout and serves as a foil to the worldly, cynical Kholin in attempting to protect both Ivan and Masha from Kholin’s desires. But while Gal’tsev succeeds in transferring Masha out of “harm’s way” to a hospital behind the lines, he cannot save Ivan, who disappears during a reconnaissance mission.

At war’s end, only Gal’tsev has survived. In Berlin, sifting through the rubble of Gestapo headquarters, Gal’tsev comes across Ivan’s dossier among prisoner files strewn on the floor. He had been hanged as a partisan. The boy-man stares, hollow-eyed and defiant, from the photograph. The film closes by cutting to scenes from Ivan’s idyllic, pre-war youth. Laughing, the child runs along the beach, away from the camera into the water and sunlight. A pretty scene but not a hopeful one. This is the past that could have been but will never be. Everyone is dead. This uncompromising film won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 1962, launching Tarkovskii’s career as an international star.

During the eighteen years of Brezhnev’s “stagnation” (zastoi), filmmakers faced great difficulties making provocative films, especially about the Soviet experience in World War II. The cautious among them focused on lavish costume epics, such as Sergei Bondarchuk’s War and Peace (Voina i mir, 1966, which became the first Soviet film to win the Oscar for Best Foreign Picture) and socialist fables like Vladimir Menshov’s Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears (Moskva slezam ne verit, 1979, the second Soviet film so honored.)[25] More adventurous, but still permissible, were films about contemporary Soviet social problems. Directors who persisted in questioning the relationship between history and politics, such as Tarkovskii, Aleksei German, Larisa Shepit’ko, and Elem Klimov, paid for their stubbornness with blighted careers.[26]

A few war films were made in the mid-1960s to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of V-E day: Moscow Is Behind Us (Za nami Moskva), Alpine Ballad (Al’piiskaia ballada), and A Woman’s Kingdom (Bab’e tsarstvo). Of these, A Woman’s Kingdom, directed by Iurii Nagibin and Aleksei Saltykov, most closely resembled the concerns of the wartime films discussed herein, depicting the fate of women in an occupied town.[27] In 1971, Aleksei German made Trial on the Road (Proverka na dorogakh), which focused on collaborators and was banned, languishing “on the shelf” until its release in 1986. (German was more successful with his second attempt at a war film, 20 Days without War [Dvadtsat’ dnei bez voiny], which records the journey of a reporter behind the front lines and was at least distributed, in 1976).[28] The zastoi does, however, have the distinction of giving birth to the most grandiose Soviet World War II picture, the loud and long five-part epic Liberation (Osvobozhdenie, 1972), directed by Iurii Ozerov. Rostislav Iurenev praises the film’s meticulously recreated battle scenes, but Richard Stites notes that in order to fill the theaters, Communist Party members were forced to buy tickets and see the film.[29]

Given this situation, the Ukrainian director Larisa Shepit’ko’s 1976 film The Ascent (Voskhozhdenie) becomes even more remarkable. Arguably the most important Soviet war film of the 1970s and certainly the most brutal,[30] it was her last completed film before her death at the age of forty in an auto accident. The Ascent stands as a monument to her courage and perseverance as a filmmaker. An uncompromising look at wartime collaboration and betrayal, it was based on Vasil Bykov’s short story “Sotnikov,” which had already been criticized as “too gloomy and hopeless.”[31]

The film opens with a German punitive force chasing a band of partisans and refugees across a bleak and frozen landscape. Sotnikov, a haggard, sickly teacher who looks like the prototypical tubercular intellectual of nineteenth-century Russian novels, volunteers to join Rybak, a sergeant in the regular army (“man of the people”), in a quest for food. Struggling through deep snow, they eventually find what appears to be an abandoned homestead. Breaking in, they discover an elderly couple. The old woman is frightened, but her husband calmly continues reading his Bible. When Rybak discovers that they still possess a cow, he denounces them as collaborators: “Only someone who collaborated would still have a cow. You’ve sinned by turning traitor. Put down your Bible.”

Sotnikov and Rybak “requisition” a sheep instead, but the shot that kills it attracts the attention of German patrols. The duo’s attempt to flee is a particularly desperate one; Sotnikov has been shot in the leg and is weakened by his hacking cough. Frozen to a tree (literally), Sotnikov wants to commit suicide, but Rybak insists that he will not leave him behind. Alternately crawling and being dragged by Rybak, ice crystals forming on his bearded face, Sotnikov makes it to another cottage Rybak has found. Sotnikov has had his epiphany; he has accepted the certainty of his death, telling Rybak, “I’m not scared anymore. The main thing is getting used to the idea.” Rybak, on the other hand, wants to live regardless of the cost.

Their new refuge belongs to the widow Demchikha, who has three young children. Before she can feed the men and get them out, the Germans arrive. Sotnikov and Rybak hide in the attic, but Sotnikov cannot control his coughing, and they are quickly discovered. Despite Sotnikov’s protests that the woman was not involved with the partisans, she, too, is arrested. Demchikha is dragged to the sledge and bound, screaming, as her small children look on helplessly.

At German headquarters, the interrogation is conducted entirely by native collaborators, led by Pavlo Portnov, who it is later revealed was a party propagandist, “community director,” and conductor of the village choir before the war. Portnov decides to question Sotnikov first, certain that he is weaker than Rybak. But Sotnikov remains defiant, so Portnov calls in “Redbeard,” to torture him, saying, “Terror will replace everything. You’ll finally become your true self, an ordinary human, full of shit. I know what a human is really like.” Sotnikov snaps back, alluding to the NKVD: “And what did you do before the war?”

As Sotnikov is branded with the “Red Star”—a branding iron shaped like a star that the Germans did indeed use to torture partisans—Portnov finds Rybak more receptive in interrogation than the supposedly weaker Sotnikov. (It is noteworthy that Portnov uses the polite vy when addressing Sotnikov but the familiar ty with Rybak.) Rybak is “softened” a bit, then thrown back in the cellar. Half-dead, rats crawling across his burned chest, Sotnikov realizes that Rybak is close to “turning” and begs him not to. Soon the Bible-reading village elder (who explains that he, too, is a partisan) and a young Jewish girl, Basia (who has been hidden by locals) join Sotnikov, Rybak, and the widow Demchikha in the cellar to await execution the following morning. By the final third of the film, Sotnikov is clearly portrayed as a Christ figure, through the staging, editing, and especially the lighting of the extreme close-ups of his face. He is determined to remain alive until morning so that he can convince their captors that he alone is responsible for the group’s alleged terrorist activities.

“Liquidation time.” As they are dragged out into the blinding light, Sotnikov is prepared to talk. His speech is highly evocative and politically resonant: “I am Sotnikov, Boris Andreevich. I was born in 1917. I joined the Party in 1935. I am a teacher and a Red Army commander. I have a father, a mother, and a motherland.” The German officers who have turned out to watch the execution ask Portnov what Sotnikov was saying. “It was nothing of importance,” Portnov replies before turning away. Demchikha is on the verge of revealing which family hid Basia, but the elder stops her. Rybak’s offer to join the local “police” is, however, accepted.

The five ascend the hill to the gallows (Rybak guiltily trying to help Sotnikov walk), martial music blasting. The villagers have been forced out of their cottages to watch; only the Germans are enjoying themselves. The hanging scene is protracted, with brilliant cutting from the gallows to the crowd (focusing particularly on a young boy wearing a “Budennyi” cap, a reference to a civil war leader)—to the beauty of the frozen landscape, to the faces of the four who will die. After the hanging, an old woman hisses at Rybak, “Judas, Judas.” The significance of his actions now sink in. Rybak imagines himself running past the sentries and being shot down. He cannot do it. He tries to hang himself in the outhouse, a comical failure. The film closes as he looks out the gate at the landscape of the motherland. He is cut off from it, forever.

The Ascent is relentless from beginning to end. No other Soviet war film, not even Ivan’s Childhood, confronted human frailty in wartime so relentlessly. On the surface, Shepit’ko appears to support the state’s policy of “no surrender”; after all, Sotnikov is a party member, born in 1917. But for whom does he fight? His father, his mother, and his motherland. It is no surprise that The Ascent’s distribution in the USSR was extremely limited.

Given the trajectory of Soviet war films over the past two decades, and the disillusionment and decline clearly evident in the last years of the Brezhnev era, it would have been surprising indeed if Elem Klimov’s contribution to the cinematic dialogue had been anything other than grim.[32] The last great film of the genre, Come and See (Idi i smotri), scripted by the well-known Belorussian writer Ales Adamovich, was commissioned as part of the commemoration for the fortieth anniversary of the end of the war in 1985 and won first prize that year at the Moscow International Film Festival.[33] Set in 1943 in war-ravaged Belorussia, Come and See subverted every previously established trope. It is hard to imagine a war movie less “celebratory” in tone than this one—or one that is truer.

Like many of the films that preceded it, Come and See opens with children playing. Although they are romping on a beach (recalling the final shots of Ivan’s Childhood), theirs is not innocent play. They are robbing graves, looking for guns: “Dig harder! Can’t join the partisans without a gun!” one grimy urchin growls at Florian Gainush, a boy of about fourteen. The children jeer at a village elder who is trying to stop them. Flor finally retrieves a weapon and runs home to face his mother, who is hysterical at the thought of his leaving. She weeps, screams, clutches at him: “Then kill yourself now! and the other children, too! [referring to his younger brothers and sisters] I won’t let you go! I won’t!” The partisans who have come to fetch him are crude and disrespectful. They behave more like a press gang than the noble partisans of She Defends the Motherland.[34]

The next scene takes place in a large partisan encampment, swarming with battle-weary and hardened men who on closer glance are not much older than Flor. They are drinking and carousing with the desperate conviviality of the condemned. Flor is very much alone, despite all the people and activity around him. As the troops prepare to move out for an operation, the impassive young commander, Kosach, takes pity on Flor and leaves him behind (but not before forcing him to exchange his good boots for another soldier’s worn ones). Like any teenaged boy longing for the “excitement” of battle, Flor is furious and embarrassed at this insult. Slogging through the swamp, sobbing, he is startled to hear other cries. It is Kosach’s lover Glafira (Glasha), a girl no more than a year or so older than Flor, if that. She, too, has been left behind by Kosach, and despite her attempts to impress Flor by acting tough and flaunting her intimacy with the commander, she is clearly no more than a frightened child. German strafing of their encampment starts, and amid the convulsive whistling and exploding of war, the disoriented and terrified adolescents try to find their way out of the nightmare, back to Flor’s village.

The village is deserted; his family’s house is empty, although there is a pot of soup in the fireplace. They hear distant screaming, and Flor believes he knows where his neighbors would seek refuge. As Flor and Glasha run along the overgrown path away from the village, Glasha looks back and sees a heap of nude corpses stacked high against the cottage. Flor is frantically dragging Glasha through the wetlands; she resists, screaming, “They aren’t here! They’re murdered!” Demented with rage and grief, Flor begins choking her to prevent her from speaking the unspeakable words: “His family! Killed! All of them! He’s deaf, crazy! His whole family murdered!” Joined by a soldier, they stumble on until they meet up with a small group of refugees, survivors from the village who confirm Glasha’s terrible news. Flor’s face, formerly so open and innocent, is transformed into a death mask. As he breaks blindly through the crowd of keening and wailing peasant women, he comes upon the old man whom he and the other boys had tormented on the beach only days before. Near death, the man is a mass of charred flesh: “I was set on fire,” he gasps. “I warned you not to dig. I begged them to kill me. They laughed. I said not to dig.”

Flor continues his journey through hell. Nearly catatonic, he joins several other men on a trek to forage for food. They are carrying a Hitler scarecrow across open fields as bombers strafe them. Leaflets flutter from the sky: “Make a stew of the Bolshevik yids.” The cow they steal from a local farmer is killed by the bombers. The sole survivor of the foursome, Flor is picked up by a peasant and taken to his village, called Perekhody in the film.

Although the Germans have already arrived there, the man is confident that he can pass Flor off as his nephew. Predictably, all the villagers are rounded up and forced into the town hall, where they are told to await their deportation to Germany. No one listens to Flor, who is helplessly shouting, crushed by the weight of his lost innocence: “Where are you rushing to?! They’ll kill everybody.” He manages to escape the building through an open window. The German soldiers, who are drunk and laughing, ignore him. Cowering on the ground, Flor becomes survivor and witness to what may well be the most brilliantly choreographed massacre in film history. Through long takes and panoramic shots, we are forced to watch as the entire village goes up in flames. Those few who initially escape are beaten, raped, humiliated, killed, their corpses desecrated. As terrible as the visual images of the carnage are, even more remarkable is the racket: screaming, barking, laughing, shouting, motor noise, music, gun shots, the whistling of flame throwers. When it is all over, it is the quiet that is most affecting. The Germans pile in their jeeps and continue their westward retreat.

Kosach’s forces arrive, too late for the inhabitants of Perekhody but not too late to ambush the perpetrators. The German major, a Russian collaborator, and a few others have been captured. The major begs for mercy; he is “old, sick.” The collaborator also tries to rationalize his participation. Only the young, blond German lieutenant remains defiant: “Your nation has no right to exist. Inferior races spread the microbe of communism. Some nations must be exterminated.” Kosach listens, impassive as ever, as others shout for vengeance and torture. The Germans are doused with gasoline, to be set aflame, when Kosach suddenly begins shooting. It is over, more humanely than the Germans treated their victims.

As the partisans move slowly away from the carnage, Flor rejoins them. Suddenly, he sees a photograph of Hitler floating in a pool of water. Enraged, he fires on it; as he shoots, we see newsreel images of Hitler, Nazi rallies, concentration camps in reverse. Flor continues to shoot. We see World War I, Hitler in school, and then . . . Hitler as a baby, in his mother’s arms. Flor cocks his rifle, aims, but cannot shoot. Unlike the Germans, he cannot kill a baby, no matter who he will grow up to be. History cannot be undone.

Flor runs up the hill to join the partisan line. As they enter the birch forest, a title informs us: “628 Belorussian villages were destroyed, along with all their inhabitants.” The final shot is of the partisans, backs to the camera, as they disappear into the heart of the dark forest.

The harshness of Klimov’s vision of war cannot be overstated. Even The Ascent had heroes: Sotnikov, the old man, the widow, and the little girl all refused to betray others. Flor lives, but at what cost? The slumped shoulders and weary gait of the survivors signal defeat rather than victory.

This extraordinary movie cemented Elem Klimov’s and Ales Adamovich’s reputations as artists and launched their careers as spokesmen for glasnost. In 1986, Klimov led the “restructuring” of the Cinematographers’ Union; both he and Adamovich enjoyed considerable political clout in the cultural arena during the Mikhail Gorbachev era.[35] Filmmakers turned to incisive explorations of the Stalin era and scathing denunciations of contemporary social decay from the late 1980s to the early 1990s.[36] By the time of the fiftieth anniversary celebrations in 1995, which Adamovich did not live to see, the cheering had stopped.[37] The once-mighty Soviet film industry had collapsed along with the Soviet Union. There was no important fiftieth anniversary film.

But was there need for one? Through this small but exceptional body of work, Soviet filmmakers had already succeeded in returning to the Soviet people an authentic memory of the conflict. By stripping the war of the cant and bombast of official history, by confronting its many paradoxes with unflinching honesty, these moviemakers succeeded where historians had not (and indeed could not, given the strictures of the Soviet historical profession).[38] Working with images rather than words, these directors were able to subvert censorship, thereby functioning as the historians of their generation. Taken as a group, their works serve as a historiophoty of the Great Patriotic War, both reflecting and especially shaping public opinion and exposing the hollowness of the official past.[39]

Viewed in hindsight, wartime movies such as She Defends the Motherland might seem no more than a series of agitational posters linked together. Yet, if we examine it more carefully, we can see that Praskovia embodies individual initiative, not party-mindedness. And if her heroism was undoubtedly not normative behavior, neither was it unbelievable to the mothers, daughters, and sisters who had lived through the nightmare of the war that was in their own villages, not an ocean away. Like all effective political art, the wartime films were “reality based,” in sharp contrast to postwar cult films like The Fall of Berlin. Small wonder that only the hack directors involved themselves with the genre until after the death of Stalin and the process of de-Stalinization had begun.

Films made during the Thaw, such as The Cranes Are Flying, Fate of a Man, and Ballad of a Soldier, privilege interiority, human frailty, and private life over state and party—making a powerful political statement by being seemingly apolitical. Ivan’s Childhood and The Ascent raise the stakes, by showing the fissures in Soviet society through the flaws of its individual members. Lastly, Come and See serves as a culmination of these trends, combining the sentiment of the Thaw films with the gritty realism of Tarkovskii’s and Shepit’ko’s masterpieces.[40] That these films could be made and shown before Gorbachev and glasnost, when stringent pre and post-production censorship generally prevailed, should encourage us to consider carefully the importance of the movies as a force for change in late Soviet society.

Denise J. Youngblood is a professor of history and chair of the department at the University of Vermont. A cultural historian specializing in Russian and Soviet silent cinema and the Soviet historical film, she received her PhD in history from Stanford University under the direction of Terence Emmons. Her publications include The Magic Mirror: Moviemaking in Russia, 1908–1918 (1999), Movies for the Masses: Popular Cinema and Soviet Society in the 1920s (1992), and Soviet Cinema in the Silent Era, 1918–1935 (1985, 1991), as well as numerous articles on Soviet film. She is currently writing a book on Russian history through its cinematic texts.


I would like to express my warm appreciation to Robert V. Daniels, Peter Kenez, Frank Manchel, Kevork Spartalian, Richard Taylor, and Josephine Woll for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this essay.

1 Quoted in Nina Tumarkin, The Living and the Dead: The Rise and Fall of the Cult of World War II in Russia (New York, 1994), 8.

2 Denise J. Youngblood, “A War Forgotten: The Great War in Russian and Soviet Cinema,” in Michael Paris, ed., The First World War and Popular Cinema (Edinburgh, 1999; New Brunswick, N.J., 2000), 172–91.

3 See John Barber and Mark Harrison, The Soviet Home Front, 1941–1945: A Social and Economic History of the USSR in World War II (London, 1991), 39–44.

4 See Tumarkin, Living and the Dead. She mentions only three fiction films in passing—The Cranes Are Flying (1957), Ivan’s Childhood (1962), and Come and See (1985)—along with the documentary This Is How We Live (Tak i zhivem) (dir. Vladimir Osledchik, 1987).

5 Peter Kenez, Cinema and Soviet Society, 1917–1953 (New York, 1992), chap. 9, which has been slightly revised, taking new archival sources into account in Kenez, “Black and White: The War on Film,” in Richard Stites, ed., Culture and Entertainment in Wartime Russia (Bloomington, Ind., 1995), chap. 9; Stites, Russian Popular Culture: Entertainment and Society since 1900 (Cambridge, 1992), chap. 4.

6 Kenez, “Black and White,” 166.

7 See Barber and Harrison, Soviet Home Front, 127–33.

8 See Alexander Dallin, German Rule in Russia, 1941–1945: A Study in Occupation Policies, 2d edn. rev. (Boulder, Colo., 1981); and Omer Bartov, The Eastern Front, 1941–45: German Troops and the Barbarisation of Warfare (New York, 1986).

9 For an overview of the partisan movement, see Richard Overy’s highly readable Russia’s War: A History of the Soviet War Effort, 1941–1945 (New York, 1998), 143–53; on the role of women in the movement, John Erickson, “Soviet Women at War,” in John Garrard and Carol Garrard, eds., World War 2 and the Soviet People, Selected Papers from the Fourth World Congress for Soviet and East European Studies, Harrogate, 1990 (London, 1993), 50–76; and Kazimiera J. Cottam, Women in War and Resistance: Selected Biographies of Soviet Women Soldiers (Nepean, Ont., 1998), 278–395.

10 Stalin’s campaign to revive Great Russian national traditions was in full swing by the mid-1930s, which proved to be a considerable help to wartime rhetoric.

11 Compare Peter Kenez’s views of this film, which are much harsher than my own. He dismisses She Defends the Motherland as “artistically primitive” in Cinema and Soviet Society, 197. Two other important films focusing on the role of women in the partisan movement appeared in 1944: Lev Arnshtam’s Zoia and Mark Donskoi’s The Rainbow (Raduga). See Kenez, “Black and White,” 167–68; Stites, Russian Popular Culture, 114–15; Brenda Bollag, “From the Avant-Garde to Socialist Realism: Some Reflections on the Signifying Procedures in Eisenstein’s Stachka and Donskoi’s Raduga,” in Hans Günther, ed., The Culture of the Stalin Period (London, 1990), 251–65; Rostislav Iurenev, Kratkaia istoriia sovetskogo kino (Moscow, 1979), 130–36. (Iurenev was the dean of Soviet film historians before glasnost; this book is a good example of the style and content of official film history during the Leonid Brezhnev era.)

12 Despite his name, Ermler was not German but a Latvian Jew born Vladimir Breslav. He adopted “Ermler” as his nom de guerre when he was a spy for the Red Army during the Russian civil war. For a discussion of Ermler’s early career, see Denise J. Youngblood, Movies for the Masses: Popular Cinema and Soviet Society in the 1920s (Cambridge, 1992), chap. 8.

13 See Barber and Harrison, Soviet Home Front, 68–72, for a survey of the new rhetoric of wartime propaganda. After Stalingrad, as the Red Army began to reclaim occupied territories, the rapprochement with the Russian Orthodox Church was believed to be particularly important.

14 By contrast, Lev Arnshtam’s 1944 film Zoia, which crafted a fable from the arrest and execution of the teenaged partisan-heroine Zoia Kosmodemianskaia, was exhibited for only a month, apparently due to its depressing but true ending. See Kenez, “Black and White,” 168; and Rosalinde Sartorti, “On the Making of Heroes, Heroines, and Saints,” in Stites, Culture and Entertainment, 182–86, 188–90.

15 Richard Taylor, Film Propaganda: Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany, 2d edn. rev. (London, 1998), 100. Taylor devotes a chapter, 99–122, to analysis of this infamous film.

16 Taylor, Film Propaganda, 119.

17 Iurenev circumspectly notes, in his discussion of the first postwar war films, that there were “undoubted shortcomings” in the genre at this point; see Kratkaia istoriia, 149. The movie from this period that Iurenev most admires is Sergei Gerasimov’s The Young Guard [Molodaia gvardiia] (1948).

18 In Josephine Woll, Real Images: Soviet Cinema and the Thaw (London, 2000), see her discussions of Zakhar Agranenko’s Immortal Garrison [Bessmertyni garnizon] (1956), 71–72; Aleksandr Ivanov’s Soldiers [Soldaty] (1957), 72; Lev Kulidzhanov and Iakov Segel’s The House I Live In [Dom, v kotorom ia zhivu] (1957), 79–82; Grigorii Chukhrai’s Clear Skies [Chistoe nebo] (1961), 118–21; Aleksandr Alov and Vladimir Naumov’s Peace to Him Who Enters [Mir vkhodiashchemu] (1961); Aleksandr Stolper’s The Living and the Dead [Zhivye and Mertvye] (1964), based on the eponymous novel by Konstantin Simonov, 153. Iurenev glosses the Khrushchev-era war films in Kratkaia istoriia, 195–200.

19 See Woll’s discussion of Cranes in the context of the films of the Thaw in Real Images, 73–79. Her forthcoming companion guide to the film will be published by Tauris in the Kinofile series in 2001.

20 Woll, Real Images, 78–79.

21 Woll, Real Images, 88–92. As we shall see, most of these films were based on novels, short stories, and novellas, as part of the strong connections between the cinematic and literary worlds that characterized Soviet culture at this time. In Garrard and Garrard, World War 2, see Frank Ellis, “Army and Party in Conflict: Soldiers and Commissars in the Prose of Vasilii Grossman,” 180–201, and Arnold McMillin, “Recovery of the Past and Struggle for the Future: Vasil’ Bykaw’s Recent War Fiction,” 202–12.

22 Woll, Real Images, 96–99.

23 For stylistic analyses of this film, see Woll, Real Images, 138–42; Vida T. Johnson and Graham Petrie, The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky: A Visual Fugue (Bloomington, Ind., 1999), 66–78. For a comparison of the picture with Come and See, see Denise J. Youngblood, “Ivan’s Childhood (USSR, 1962) and Come and See (USSR, 1985): Post-Stalinist Cinema and the Myth of World War II,” in John Whiteclay Chambers II and David Culbert, eds., World War II, Film and History (New York, 1996), chap. 5.

24 Johnson and Petrie, Films of Andrei Tarkovsky, 67.

25 The foreign film category was added to the Academy Awards in 1956.

26 For a discussion of the stagnation period, see Stites, Russian Popular Culture, 169–74; and Anna Lawton, Kinoglasnost: Soviet Cinema in Our Time (Cambridge, 1992), chap. 1.

27 See Woll, Real Images, 204–06.

28 Lawton, Kinoglasnost, 30–32.

29 Iurenev, Kratkaia istoriia, 198–99; Stites, Russian Popular Culture, 169.

30 See Lawton, Kinoglasnost, 30–32.

31 Woll, Real Images, 205. Woll does not, however, discuss the film, which falls outside the time frame of her book.

32 Not to mention that Klimov was the widower of Larisa Shepit’ko.

33 Like The Ascent (1976), this important film has been virtually ignored by Western film scholars. In addition to my article “Ivan’s Childhood and Come and See,” see Lawton, Kinoglasnost, 225–26. Tumarkin mentions the film in Living and the Dead, 69, 207–08, but she is mistaken in saying that it was not released until 1989. I first saw it in Washington, D.C., in 1986.

34 See Barber and Harrison’s discussion of some recruiting tactics for the “volunteer” forces in Soviet Home Front, 73–76.

35 The best discussion of this period in Soviet cinema remains Lawton, Kinoglasnost.

36 For a brief discussion of how this affected the war cult, see George Gibian, “World War 2 in Russian National Consciousness: Pristavkin (1981–87) and Kondratyev (1990),” in Garrard and Garrard, World War 2, 147–59.

37 Adamovich died of a heart attack on January 26, 1994.

38 The written word was always easier to censor than the visual language of the movies. Scenarios were subjected to strict pre-production censorship, and the principle of the “iron scenario” ruled, but as anyone who is familiar with moviemaking knows, the film is made in the editing. As a result, a film that looked appropriate on the page might well be subversive on the screen, after a great deal of the state’s money had been invested in the product. The institutional history of Soviet filmmaking practices is covered ad seriatim in Denise J. Youngblood, Soviet Cinema in the Silent Era, 1918–1935 (1985; rpt. edn., Austin, Tex., 1991); Kenez, Cinema and Soviet Society; Woll, Real Images; Lawton, Kinoglasnost.

39 Closely related to this would be a study of the movies depicting the travails of postwar life, such as Vsevolod Pudovkin’s The Return of Vasilii Bornitkov [Vozvrashcheniie Vasiliia Bortnikova] (1953), Larisa Shepit’ko’s Wings [Krylia] (1966), Nikolai Gubenko’s War Orphans [Podranki] (1979), and Nikita Mikhalkov’s The Five Evenings [Piat’ vecherov] (1979)—to name only a few examples.

40 This statement is not intended to deny the surrealism in Ivan’s Childhood or the often heavy-handed symbolism in The Ascent.






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