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Film / Burnt by the Sun

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Burnt by the Sun (Утомлённые солнцем) is a 1994 Russian drama directed by Nikita Mikhalkov set in one day in the 1930s, focusing on the effect of the dictatorship of Josef Stalin on a Red Army officer. It won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, one of only four in Russian to do so, the other three being War and Peace, Dersu Uzala, and Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears.

Russia, 1936: revolutionary hero Colonel Kotov (Nikita Mikhailkov) is spending an idyllic summer in his village with his young wife and six-year-old daughter Nadya and other assorted family and friends. Things change dramatically with the unheralded arrival of Cousin Dmitri (Oleg Menshikov) from Moscow, who charms the women and little Nadia with his games and pianistic bravura. But Kotov isn't fooled: this is the time of Stalin's repression, with telephone calls in the middle of the night spelling doom - and he knows that Dmitri isn't paying a social call...

The title derives from a popular 1930s song composed by Jerzy Petersburski. Originally the Polish tango To ostatnia niedziela, it became popular in the Soviet Union with the new Russian lyrics as Утомлённое солнце (Utomlyonnoye solntse, Weary Sun). The song is actually heard repeatedly in the film; director Mikhalkov stated in 2007 that he learned of the song from his elder brother Andrei Konchalovsky's 1979 film Siberiade and jokingly compared this to the fact that, when a boy, he once stole some money from his brother.

The title also refers to a mysterious orb of light, similar to ball lightning, that appears at various points in the film; the film states at the end that it is dedicated to those "burnt by the sun" of the Revolution.

A sequel, a Great Patriotic War film called Burnt by the Sun 2, was filmed and competed for the Palme d'Or at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival. Nikita Mikhalkov directed and reprised his role as Sergei Petrovich Kotov. Oleg Menshikov and Nadezhda Mikhalkova also reprised their roles from the original film. The film is Russian film's industry most expensive failure, having played to empty houses before being withdrawn from circulation. (Part of the problem was the Continuity Snarl the film presented with the first film, with multiple characters that were killed off somehow being alive again, and little Nadya being a good ten years older than she should have been in 1941.)


  • An Offer You Can't Refuse: Mitya was 'asked' by someone very powerful (implied to be Stalin himself) to arrest Kotov. Knowing what would happen to the rest of Kotov's family but unable to refuse, he tries Russian Roulette and when he survives he takes the assignment.
  • Bath Suicide: Dimitri/Mitya at the end.
  • Book Ends: The story ends where it began, in Mitya's apartment. In the beginning, he was miming Russian Roulette; in the end, he's slitting his wrists in the bathtub.
  • Butt-Monkey: Mokhova is on the receiving end of literally every joke played by her family.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Mitya was a childhood friend and ex-fiancée of Marusya until he disappeared more than ten years before the storyline.
  • Downer Ending: On so many, many levels. The revolution that Kotov enthusiastically and genuinely supported ends biting him in the ass at the end of the movie and gets him killed, Mitya commits suicide, and Marusya dies in a gulag four years later. Nadya ends up being the sole survivor, and God knows what she must have been through before she is rehabilitated.
  • Energy Ball: Ball lightning, which is occasionally seen gently floating through a scene, for no obvious reason.
  • Fascist, but Inefficient: Or Communist but Inefficient in this case. There's no other way to explain a military exercise that is guaranteed to destroy crops and possibly harm civilians. Or a system that executes its military heroes on trumped-up charges just a few years before they'll be needed to fight off a German invasion.
  • Huge Holographic Head: Not a holograph but a giant poster, as a towering poster of Stalin is pulled up into the air via hot air balloon, symbolizing his despotic, Big Brother-like rule over everything.
  • Malevolent Mugshot: The poster of Josef Stalin, which rises above the horizon just as Kotov is being taken away to torture and execution. (The local Communist Party is putting on a commemoration of the Soviet balloon industry.)
  • May–December Romance: Marusya is 27 while Kotov is a hero of the Bolshevik revolution (nearly 20 years prior) and looks to be about 60.
  • Mood Dissonance: The penultimate scene of the film, with Kotov being arrested and brutally beaten, and an innocent driver being shot to death in cold blood, happens on a bright and sunny day, in peaceful countryside surroundings.
  • Motif: The ball lightning, which is never explained but just drifts through the frame from time to time. It seems to represent the life force of the people being destroyed by Stalinism.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: It's part of why Mitya wants Kotov dead. Subverted, since in the end Mitya commits suicide and doesn't reunite with Marusya. Probably because Revenge on both parties is likely his motive. Witness the scene where he fails to warn Marusya that she might step on broken glass. There's likely just as much resentment of her for marrying the man he hates, though he's still feels enough guilt to kill himself.
  • The Purge: Going on big time in 1936, as Stalin wipes out millions.
  • Reign of Terror: Stalin's Great Terror, in which millions of innocent people were tortured and put to death. Often people used the Terror to settle old scores, as seen in the film.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: The way the new regime makes their citizens disappear has more than one resemblance to The Mafia, and many use this as a mean to get rid of people they just plain don't like.
  • Running Gag: The truck driver who is lost, and continually asking people for directions to some town the name of which he's unsure of. Comes to a disturbing end when said truck driver blunders into the car taking Kotov away and witnesses Kotov taking a brutal beating. Mitya then shoots the truck driver to death and chucks him into the back of his truck.
  • Scenery Porn: The Russian countryside is depicted in all of its glory.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: Averted. After being arrested by the Secret Police, Colonel Kotov rattles off Joseph Stalin's personal phone number. The NKVD men squirm in their seats, but when he goes to leave the car they inflict a brutal beating. Kotov has no idea that Stalin is the one ordering his arrest in the first place.
  • Shout-Out to Shakespeare: Mitya remembers reading Hamlet with Marusya. He even quotes a little bit in English—"Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears"—then switches to Russian to repeat the same line.
  • Stepford Smiler:
    • Marusya has already attemped suicide and her cheerful façade starts to slip as soon as Mitya shows up.
    • Mitya, despite the exuberant persona he shows to everybody, is seen attempting suicide by Russian Roulette at the beginning of the movie. He's also seething with barely concealed rage about being turned into an NKVD mole, as revealed when he tells Kolya that the car is coming to take him away.
  • Title Drop: As noted in the intro, the title is a lyric from a popular song of the era, which Nadya plays on the phonograph.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: 27 years old beautiful Marusya is married to grey and balding Kotov, who seems to be in his 60s.