Thursday, November 17, 2005

Ballard of a Soldier * * * * *


This is the story of a 19-year old Russian soldier during WWII who through a bit of luck and pluck knocks out 2 German tanks and gets 6 days leave to travel to see his mother. It is during the period of the war when Germany is steadily gaining ground on Russia during the German army's push north towards Moscow. The trains are full of soldiers and refugees. The speakers in the villages announce news of the war -- news of retreat and of villages surrendered. The landscape out the window of the train is devastation. But this is a story of one young man, full of joy of the simple luck of getting time off to go home for a couple days. It is the story of his journey, the people he meets along the way, the girl he meets and falls in love with, and his good-natured help but also heartbreaks.

I had seen this movie listed on so many "My favorite foreign movie" lists that I finally decided to see it. It's now on my "favorite foreign movies" list. There is something wonderful about it. It reminds me of "It's a Wonderful Life". Not because of the plot. The plots have nothing in common. Each is a simple story told in softened black-and-white, a painting of life instead of a photograph, and follows a charismatic central character. It's an uplifting beautiful story even though it is set in the context of the sadness of war: war widows, refugees, losing your parents, losing your sons, wounded and depressed soldiers, unfaithful wives, and losing your home.

Available on Netflix and Amazon.

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