Ballad of a Soldier (Баллада о солдате / Ballada o soldate) is a 1959 film directed by World War Two veteran, Grigoriy Chukhray. It’s one of the most internationally celebrated Russian movies ever. It co-won a BAFTA for Best Film, won the Best Participation Award at the Cannes Film Festival, and was also nominated for an Oscar.
Difficulties accompanied the film at all stages of its creation. One of the biggest problems was the director, Grigory Chukhrai’s health. At the beginning of filming, he broke his leg and collarbone, suspending filming for two months. Then, as filming resumed, he contracted typhoid fever. Anyhow, the film turned out amazing and provides a compelling account of the Soviet home front during World War Two.
A woman gazes out at the path her 19-year-old son, Alyosha, took to the front from which he did not return. We soon delve into Alyosha’s military feats and personal experience of the war.
After destroying two German Panzer tanks on his own, Alyosha is rewarded for his bravery. His commander wants to decorate him, but instead Alyosha asks to go on leave to visit his mother. And so begins an epic tale of his path back home through wartime Russia to his mother.
Alyosha’s trip back home takes six days. The long journey time is largely due to Alyosha’s over-the-top generosity to everyone he meets. He helps a struggling disabled person, delivers a gift of soap to a comrade-in-arm’s wife, tastes first love, and as a result keeps missing trains.
We get to see how the chaos of war separates Alyosha from his new lover and, of course, mother. Rather than trumpeting the glory of war, Ballad of a Soldier focuses on a soldier’s greatest desire – to go home. One can’t help but wonder what similarities there are between Alyosha’s tale and the experience of the film’s director, Chukray. After all, he himself went to war at age 20, serving as a paratrooper in Stalingrad.
Although Ballad of a Soldier is now considered as one of the finest works of Soviet cinema, it was not so warmly received after it was first released.
First off, when the movie was first released in 1959, it didn’t get the opportunity to have a wide circulation in domestic movie theaters.
What’s more, many Soviets who did see the film took issue with its historical inaccuracies. People complained that taking home leave at the beginning of the war was effectively impossible. On top of that, some complained that the epaulets the soldiers wear in the film were only introduced into the Red Army uniform in 1943 – after the plot of the movie takes place.
All the same, the film is today regarded as a masterpiece – both at home and abroad.