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Film / Ballad of a Soldier

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Ballad of a Soldier is a 1959 film from the Soviet Union, directed by Grigori Chukrai.

Alyosha is a 19-year-old private soldier on the Eastern Front during the Great Patriotic War. He's a signalman, but when everybody else runs away in panic Alyosha mans an anti-tank gun and destroys two German tanks. When Alyosha is brought to the general to receive a decoration, he asks for leave to go home and fix the leaky roof on his mother's house. The general gives him six days' leave—two to travel into the interior, two to fix his mom's roof, two to return. Ideally, this should be enough, but delays and complications caused by the chaos in wartime Russia threaten Alyosha's chances to get home. Shura, the beautiful young girl Alyosha meets as he's hitching a ride on a supply train, is another complication.

Ballad of a Soldier was one of the films made during the Khruschev thaw, when Soviet society became somewhat more open in the years after Stalin's death. This film and another film made during this time, The Cranes Are Flying, contrasted with earlier, relentlessly patriotic Soviet depictions of the war by emphasizing the tragedy and human sacrifice which it caused.


  • Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder: A soldier named Pavlov asks Alyosha to take a cake of soap home to Pavlov's wife. When Alyosha finds her, she's living with a man. Alyosha hands over the soap, but later takes it back and gives it to Pavlov's father.
  • Action Prologue: The opening battle scene in which Alyosha takes out two tanks.
  • Action Survivor: Alyosha single handedly destroyed two German tanks more out of self-preservation than bravery.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Alyosha's first delay is caused when he helps a depressed veteran who is going home after having lost a leg in combat.
  • Ballad of X: Ballad of a Soldier.
  • Book Ends: Opens and closes with Alyosha's mother on the edge of town looking down the dirt road that leads away from her village.
  • Captain Smooth and Sergeant Rough: Gavrilikin, the soldier guarding the supply train, is quite the bully with Alyosha, citing his fear of his lieutenant, a "beast". Eventually Gavrilikin strong-arms Alyosha into offering one of his cans of tinned beef as a bribe. When the lieutenant finally does find out about Alyosha and Shura on the train, not only does he not care, he makes Gavrilikin give back the canned beef.
  • Downer Beginning: The opening narration states plainly that at some date after the film's time frame poor Alyosha will be killed in combat and buried near some town with "a foreign name".
  • Downer Ending: Alyosha has barely enough time to give his mom a hug and say a few words before he has to get back on the truck for the journey back to the front. The closing narration speculates on the many things he might have done with his life if he'd lived, but that in the end he'll be remembered as a Russian soldier.
  • During the War: After the opening battle scene, the rest of the movie is a portrait of life on the home front of the Soviet Union as Alyosha struggles to get back home.
  • Insecure Love Interest: Vasya, the crippled soldier was considering not coming back at home at all because he taught his young and beautiful wife (whom he was extremely jealous before the war) would refuse his now cripple husband. The smile and tears of her face when she meets him at the station kicks off any doubt.
  • Leg Focus: When Alyosha first notices Shura on the supply train, she is adjusting her stockings.
  • Meadow Run: A non-romantic example of this, as Alyosha's mother, out harvesting in the field, runs through the grain to embrace her son.
  • Older Sidekick: Vasya, the crippled soldier who travelled with Alyosha in the first half of the movie.
  • "Pan Up to the Sky" Ending: After Alyosha rides away from his mother in the truck, as the voiceover muses on what he might have been if he'd lived.
  • Road Trip Plot: The people Alyosha meets and experiences he has as he travels back to his home village.
  • Road Trip Romance: Alyosha and Shura fall in love during their unexpected trip.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: When Vasya discusses with Alyosha about not going back to his wife because he's ashamed of his injury, a bitter woman tells him he should be ashamed of himself, since many women would give up everything to have their men safe at home.