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Film / The Thief

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The Thief (Вор) is a 1997 film from Russia, directed by Pavel Chukraj.

It is set in 1952 in the latter days of Josef Stalin's rule. Sanya is a six-year-old boy whose father, a Red Army soldier, died before he was born. Sanya sometimes has visions of the father he never knew. He and his mother Katya are living a desperate existence: as the film opens they are on a train going to nowhere in particular. While on the train they meet Toljan (Vladimir Mashkov), a handsome, charming Red Army officer. After Katya and Toljan have sex on the train she immediately decides that they will live together and Sanya will call him "Daddy". They don't get married, but they pretend to be married in order to get a room in a communal apartment building in a large city.

Katya and Sanya soon discover that Toljan is not as nice as he seemed. They also discover something far worse, that Toljan is not an officer in the army, but a thief. His modus operandi is to infiltrate communal apartments, gain the confidence of the people who live in them, then eventually rob them and skip town. Katya, who is in love, and Sanya, who is desperate for a father figure, join Toljan in a life of crime.

Not to be confused with the 1952 American film noir starring Ray Milland.


  • Allegorical Character: Toljan clearly symbolizes Stalin. The Stalin tattoo on his chest is the most obvious sign. Katya and Sanya represent the Russian people, looking for a father figure/protector, meekly submitting and accepting his crimes as the Russian people submitted to Stalin.
  • Alliterative Title: Both "The" and "Thief" start with "Th".
  • Book Ends: In the beginning Katya and Sanya are riding on the train when they meet Toljan. At the end, Sanya is on a train out of Chechnya that is carrying refugees, and there is a mother-daughter pair aboard that strongly reminds him of his past.
  • Bring My Brown Pants: Sanya wets his pants with terror when Toljan threatens to beat him. Six years later, he wets himself again when meeting Toljan, this time from the emotional shock of finding out that Toljan doesn't care about him.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: A 12-year-old Sanya encounters Toljan by chance. Not only does Toljan not recognize him, the names Katya and Sanya don't ring a bell ("Which Katya?") and he doesn't remember until Sanya reminds him about the woman and the boy on the train.
  • Chekhov's Gun: An actual gun, a Red Army pistol that Toljan carries around as part of his officer disguise. He gives it to Katya as they part. Sanya keeps it as his only memento of his father figure. Six years later, enraged at Toljan for forgetting about him, Sanya shoots him In the Back with that gun.
  • Contrived Coincidence:
    • All the vastness of Russia and its millions of people, and after six years have passed, and Sanya still manages to encounter Toljan completely at random.
    • Averted at the end, when a grown-up Sanya meets an elderly bum he thinks might be Toljan—but no, it's a random bum.
  • Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Gangster!: Katya might not like to admit it but she does feel this way sometimes. After one obviously successful score in the Crimea has them leaving town in a fancy dining car eating smoked fish and caviar, the two of them wind up dissolving in laughter.
  • Distant Finale: The last part of the movie jumps forward 38 years or so to find Sanya as an army officer in the Chechnya war.
  • Don't Make Me Take My Belt Off!: Toljan telling Sanya to get Toljan's belt causes Sanya to wet himself in fright. As it turns out, Toljan, somewhat surprisingly, never does beat the boy.
  • Flipping the Bird: Katya flips Toljan the equivalent thereof, a thumb pointed between the first and middle fingers. This is the first time he hits her.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Abortion wasn't stigmatized in the Soviet Union to the extent that it is in the West, but still, Katya dies after a botched abortion.
  • He's Dead, Jim: About three seconds of pulse-measuring is enough for a soldier in the last scene to declare the old bum dead.
  • Lady Drunk: Inessa Pavlova, the older woman in the communal apartment that is introduced as a drunk. The other boarders put water in her glass instead of vodka at the communal dinner.
  • Love Martyr: Katya falls in love with Toljan, and can't break away from him, even after finding out what kind of person he is and what he does for a living. (And without considering that he would have robbed that apartment and left her behind if she hadn't doubled back.) After he's arrested she unsuccessfully tries to bribe a cop to get him out of trouble.
  • Male Frontal Nudity: An entire scene takes place in a Russian bathhouse.
  • Mistaken for Cheating: When Toljan leaves the circus early, Katya thinks that he's headed back to have sex with the hot actress who lives in the apartment. She goes back to catch him only to find something even worse: him robbing the place.
  • New Parent Nomenclature Problem: Toljan and Katya both insist that Sanya call Toljan "Daddy", Katya because she obviously wants Sanya to think of him that way and Toljan because it's part of his scam. Sanya refuses, calling his quasi-stepdad "Uncle Toljan"—until near the end when Toljan is being taken away to jail. Sanya runs after the prison van, saying "Daddy! Don't leave us!" The voiceover reflects that after that, Sanya never saw the vision of his real father again, because he had "betrayed him."
  • Parental Sexuality Squick: Hard to blame little Sanya for not taking it well when his mother and Toljan are having sex while they're all in their one room.
  • Parent with New Paramour: Happens pretty darn quickly. Katya and Toljan meet, they have sex on the train, boom, Sanya's got a new dad.
  • The Plot Reaper: Might Katya and Sanya make a life together after they finally are separated from Toljan, thus making this a less depressing movie? Of course not! Katya dies from a botched abortion shortly after Toljan goes to prison.
  • Sexiled: Sanya gets chucked out of the room when he starts to interfere with Toljan and Katya's sex.
  • Smithical Marriage: Katya and Toljan pretend to be married so they can get a room in a communal apartment. As becomes clear later, Toljan is also using them as props in his scam.
  • Time-Shifted Actor: Three different actors play Sanya: a 6-year-old for the bulk of the movie, a 12-year-old Sanya for his last meeting with Toljan, and a middle-aged Sanya for the last scene.
  • Time Skip: Six years towards the end of the movie after Sanya is orphaned, and then 38 years or so until the ending.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Toljan never does strike Sanya, but he does hit Katya more than once.