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Commissar (Комиссар) is a 1967 film from the Soviet Union, directed by Alexander Askoldov.

The film is set sometime circa 1919 or 1920 during the Russian Civil War between Lenin's new Communist regime and the anti-communist Whites. Klavdia Vavilova is a tough-as-nails commissar with a cavalry unit. Unfortunately she is also pregnant, thanks to a passionate fling with another cavalryman who has since been killed in action. After her unit moves into a Ukranian town, Klavdia is boarded with the Magazanniks, a Jewish family, while she carries her baby to term. Husband Yefim is none too pleased by being forced to take in a guest, but wife Maria takes to Klavdia right away, and Yefim is eventually won over. Klavdia bonds with her hosts and starts to act more like a stereotypical mother—but an advance by the Whites threatens this picture of domesticity.

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By the time this film was produced the "Khrushchev Thaw" that had produced a flowering of Soviet film (Ballad of a Soldier, The Cranes Are Flying, Ivan's Childhood) was pretty much over. (Nikita Khrushchev himself had been deposed in 1964.) Director Askoldov was expelled from the Communist Party and kicked out of the movie business; Commissar is the only film he ever directed. The film itself was shelved by Soviet censors and wasn't released until 1988, during the glasnost thaw of Mikhail Gorbachev.


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Tropes:

  • Abandoned Area: The ghostly town that Klavdia's unit rolls into in the opening scene. It turns out everyone was hiding.
  • But Now I Must Go: Klavdia, seeing her unit marching through town to face the Whites, makes the snap decision to join them. In a particularly moving scene, she nurses her baby one last time and whispers some endearments, then leaves him for the Magazanniks and hustles off to battle.
  • Call-Forward: A terrifying one. As Yefim is dancing in the cellar to try and calm his children as the rumble of battle comes closer, Klavdia has a vision of the Magazanniks, wearing the Jewish star, being led into a Nazi concentration camp.
  • Crapsack World: It wasn't good to be caught in the crossfire during the Russian Civil War, and it was worse when you were Jewish. One disturbing scene has the Magazannik sons playing pogrom with their more gentle older sister.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: Shot in black-and-white in 1967. Fits the somber mood.
  • Dream Sequence: A surreal, impressionistic dream when Klavdia is going through labor shows her romance with a bespectacled fellow cavalryman, since killed in action, which resulted in the baby.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Ten minutes into the film, Klavdia is having a Red Army deserter shot. This establishes her toughness, before the film takes a turn with her pregnancy.
  • Face Framed in Shadow: Happens a lot in the scene where Klavdia and her temporary family have to hide in a poorly lit cellar as the Whites approach.
  • For Doom the Bell Tolls: The film ends with shots of Klavdia and her unit advancing to meet a contingent of Whites that seem to outnumber them by quite a bit. There's a freeze frame, and a doom-laden bell tolls.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Averted. Klavdia explains to her commanding officer that by the time she tried to get an abortion, after three straight months of campaigning, the doctor told her it was too late.
  • Gray Rain of Depression: The rain falling as the townspeople hide in fear of the Whites.
  • Impairment Shot: The camera goes blurry when Klavdia passes out from the pain during birth.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Klavdia, a soldier on horseback during wartime, certainly didn't want to get pregnant.
  • Ominous Fog: The Gray Rain of Depression is followed by a similarly depressing fog that rolls into town as battle approaches.
  • The Political Officer: Surprised? This is Klavdia's job. But unlike some negative stereotypes of the commissar, Klavdia fights on the front line with the men.
  • P.O.V. Cam: The camera whips back and forth as Maria slaps Klavdia back into consciousness during her labor.
  • Screaming Birth: Between screaming, and telling Maria to stop torturing her, Klavdia loses consciousness a couple of times and has dreamy flashbacks to how she got pregnant in the first place.
  • Silence Is Golden: Fully seven minutes elapse before the first line of dialogue. Together with the Abandoned Area town, the ominous setting is well established.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: Klavdia is impregnated by a fellow cavalryman who was killed in combat shortly thereafter.
  • The "The" Title Confusion: Some English-language sources call this film "The Commissar".
  • Would Hit a Girl: Maria's increasing nervousness as the Whites approach leads to a similarly jumpy Yefim slapping her. He is immediately contrite.
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