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Film / Sunstroke

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Sunstroke is a 2014 film from Russia directed by Nikita Mikhalkov.

The film plays out on two narrative tracks. The first scene shows a bunch of Russian officers in 1920, in a prisoner-of-war camp. They are from Baron Wrangel's White army, recently forced to surrender by the Bolsheviks as the Russian Civil War is coming to an end. The officers are surrendering their weapons and agreeing to give up fighting against the new Soviet state, in return for their parole and a ticket out of Russia.

Among the prisoners in the gray, muddy, sad ad how camp is an unnamed lieutenant. As the depressed soldiers sit around and wonder where it all went wrong, the lieutenant casts his mind back to 1907, and an idyllic boat ride down the Volga River. In this, the second narrative track, the lieutenant remembers a night of passion with an also unnamed woman that he met on the boat.


Based on two works by Nobel Prize-winning Russian Ivan Bunin: his short story "Sunstroke" (the 1907 storyline) and his diary of the Revolution and Civil War, Cursed Days. Eduard Artemyev composed the score.


  • Binocular Shot: The woman on the boat first sees the lieutenant when she looks at hi through a pair of binoculars, with the standard two circles.
  • Downer Beginning: The opening scenes find the lieutenant and his fellow officers in a damp, muddy POW enclosure, enduring the humiliation of surrender to the Bolsheviks.
  • Downer Ending: The lieutenant and all the other White officers are killed when the Reds, who tricked them on the boat with a promise of free passage out of Russia, instead deliberately sink the boat.
  • Flashback B-Plot: The 1920 story, with the lieutenant stuck in a POW holding pen, is intercut throughout with a series of flashbacks to his happy memories of a boat ride down the Volga thirteen years earlier.
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  • Historical Domain Character: The two commissars processing the White officers—Rosalia Zemlyachka and her Hungarian sidekick Bela Kun—are real people. Kun, who was forced to flee to the Soviet Union after his Hungarian communist government collapsed, was eventually purged in Stalin's Terror of the late 1930s. Zemylachka survived the purges and eventually became the highest-ranking female official in Stalin's Russia.
  • Incredibly Long Note: One of the officers entertains the others by singing a Russian folk song, which he belts out with gusto, ending on a note that he holds forever while the other men gape in astonishment.
  • Insignia Rip-Off Ritual: All the officers, after signing oaths that they will no longer fight against the Bolsheviks, are forced to remove their epaulets.
  • Let the Past Burn: The baby carriage full of old mementoes that the one officer pushes down a flight of stairs, eventually crashes into a bonfire.
  • Match Cut:
    • A shot of laundry being vigorously stirred in a large barrel is matched to a shot of a steamboat's paddle churning the water of a river. This is the first cut from 1920 to 1907.
    • There's a match cut from a stage musician futzing around with his Dodgy Toupee, to the contorted face of Col. Tumolev as he's being strangled to death by another officer (Tumolev ratted out another officer to the Bolsheviks).
  • No Name Given: Neither the protagonist lieutenant, nor his gorgeous lover that spends one idyllic night with in 1907, are named.
  • Nostalgia Ain't Like It Used To Be: The film portrays Russia after the revolution as grim and sad and ugly. 1907 Tsarist Russia, on the other hand, is sunny and bright and beautiful. Everything is idyllic and everyone seems happy and one might wonder why Russia had a revolution in the first place.
  • Off-into-the-Distance Ending: The last shot shows the fancy paddle wheel steamer sailing away, in a very symbolic manner that suggests the end of the old age.
  • The Reveal: Although it's easy enough to guess. Grigory, the Bolshevik officer who takes the surrender oaths of the White officers, is Egoriy, the boy of 12 or so that the nameless lieutenant hung out with for a day back in 1907.
  • Shout-Out: A different officer is going through a box of mementoes, including a souvenir button from Yalta. He then chucks said mementoes into a baby carriage, which he pushes down a long flight of steps, in a scene that is directly lifted from the iconic Odessa Steps sequence in The Battleship Potemkin.
  • Title Drop: As the woman is about to leave the hotel, she gazes down at the sleeping lieutenant and says "What happened between us, it was just a sunstroke, which can't go on too long, because otherwise you'll get scorched."