The Forty-First (1956) | OBSCURE PICKS
The Forty-first (1956) is a Soviet war drama which was nominated for Palme D’Or in Cannes in 1957. Though the motion picture failed to win Palme D’Or, its director Grigoriy Chukhrai received a special award for his effort.
In early years of the Russian Revolution, a young and attractive female sniper Maria Filatovna (Izolda Izvitskaya) is assigned to escort an imprisoned White Army officer Vadim Nikolayevich Govorkha (Oleg Strizhenov) to Soviet HQ. Notwithstanding, with passing of time, initial bonds of sympathy evolve into something much stronger…
“Although Urusevsky’s mesmeric imagery incessantly suffuses this Russian cake with a sufficient portion of icing-sugar so as to maintain its overall sweetness, it still tastes flimsy and banal”
The Forty-first by Grigoriy Chukhrai is a baffling piece of war drama which does not strain to camouflage its propaganda-tinged plumage from the very onset and ardently extols and idealises revolutionary concepts which the movie alludes to. Saliently, the pic is greatly sapped by its propagandism and although Urusevsky’s mesmeric imagery incessantly suffuses this Russian cake with a sufficient portion of icing-sugar so as to maintain its overall sweetness, it still tastes flimsy and banal. In the opening scene, one is incapable of differentiating disparate soldiers’ faces on account of very dim sun’s radiance sifted by portentously dark clouds. This gesture might be utilised in order to exemplify the equality within Soviet troops.
It is only one of the palette of manoeuvres which are to expose ideals of the revolution and hardships of courageous Red Army soldiers who are displayed as well-mannered vis-à-vis their enemies. Apart from that, upon being displaced onto deserts, revolutionaries strive to proceed fighting with a view to preponderating in Russia and establishing social alignment, thus they confiscate camels from some nomads for revolutionary aims and are constrained to venture through a desert. Chukhrai unremittingly intertwines the plot with frequently unsubtle hints and epiphenomenally, the ensemble is brimming with indoctrination and possesses a bogus appearance, but the movie intermittently exceeds its politically straitening framing with its universal, timeless subject matter and aesthetic beauty. Notwithstanding, what the flick is immensely pauperised by is its topical languorousness, the fact that the preface to the main theme is excessively fragmented and the action sporadically somewhat lethargic. As a corollary, the second part of the film only ostensibly offers something more, for it is exorbitantly brief to constitute an elaborate analysis of both main heroes whose roles are centred too late and come to being just shallow directional whimsies drained from depth. Fortunately, the character of Vadim Nikolayevich Govorkha is not caricatured and decidedly feels like a real human being which causes the overzealous communistic stylisation to subside slightly.
The acting is satisfying, but not particularly remarkable. Izolda Izvitskaya is plausible and likable as a staunch communist sniper who infatuates with White Army lieutenant played by Oleg Strizhenov whose performing was very realistic as well. He prosperously impersonates the character who embarks on possessing contradictory emotions forged on his face in company of the aforementioned woman. The rest of the cast remains unnoticeable, perchance with the exception of Nikolay Kryuchkov who was pretty convincing as Commander Yevsyukov.
The cinematography by Sergei Urusevsky, who is known for his collaborations with Kalatozov on I am Cuba and The Cranes are Flying, impregnates the celluloid with murky colours which synergistically conjure up a harsh, yet exceptionally seductive décor consisting of scorching sand and dry wind. Likewise, there is an occasional utilisation of vertical tracking shots which auspiciously exhibit the aridness of the desert. The soundtrack by Nikolai Kryukov is relatively neat, but not very memorable. It generally comes to my attention owing to some nice violin pieces of music which I find quite deft, conspicuously not masterful though.
Instead of delving into psyches of protagonists, Chukhrai voyages on the surface psychologism’s lake, entailing solely tiny ripples on it. Whilst the subject of lovers separated by ideological boundaries prompted by converse political stances is very riveting (e.g. in case of Godard’s fascinating, lesser-known Le petit soldat), Chukhrai’s opus is an example of cinematic superficiality satiated with some tantalisingly sublime scenes which cannot cloak flick’s obsoleteness, simplified perception of depicted occurrences and a compelling sentiment of insufficiency enhanced by its ubiquitous propagandism which might have been totally indistinct but for the motion picture’s structural flaccidity and lack of conceptual concretisation.
Final verdict: 5/10 stars – not bad