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Film / White Sun of the Desert

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White Sun of the Desert is a cult Soviet Western type action movie (although, since it's set in the East, it's technically an Ostern), filmed in 1969. Director Vladimir Motyl rewrote the screenplay by Rustam Ibragimbekov to include references to a number of screen Westerns (from both the United States and Italy). The film was initially prohibited from Russian cinemas, but Leonid Brezhnev, having seen it at his villa, decided to allow White Sun to be released. The film went on to break all Russian box-office records, with over 50 million tickets sold.

The setting is the east shore of the Caspian Sea (today's Turkmenistan), where the Red Army soldier Fyodor Sukhov has been fighting the Civil War in Russian Asia for a number of years. After being hospitalized and then demobbed, he sets off home to join his wife, but is caught up in a desert fight between a Red Army cavalry unit and Basmachi guerrillas. The cavalry unit commander, Rahimov, "persuades" Sukhov to help, temporarily, with the protection of abandoned women of the Basmachi guerrilla leader Black Abdullah's harem. Leaving a young Red Army soldier, Petrukha, to assist Sukhov with the task, Rahimov and his cavalry unit set out to pursue the fleeing Abdullah.

Sukhov and women from Abdullah's harem return to a nearby shore town. Soon, looking for a seaway across the border, Abdullah and his gang come to the same town...

This film provides examples of:

  • Berserk Button: Vereshchagin, had been informed of Petrukha's murder by Abdullah, decided to take Sukhov's side and overtook Abdulla's launch barehanded.
  • Chew Toy: Sub-lieutenant Semyon, Abdullah's Dragon. Since he had begun from proposing to comrade Sukhov the Sadistic Choice, no one has any pity for him.
  • Cigar-Fuse Lighting: Comrade Sukhov does the inverted version: he lights his cigarette off a dynamite fuse.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Gyulchatai, the youngest of Abdullah's wives.
  • Couldn't Find a Lighter: Sukhov lights his cigarette from a dynamite fuse.
  • Culture Clash: The clash of progressive Communist ideals and patriarchal Central Asian mores is one of the driving conflicts (as well as a source of more than one humorous moment) of the movie.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Sukhov has a very memorable look of utter despair once he's shot and forced to helplessly watch Vereshchagin start the engine on the barge. It's brief enough that he's still able to use the ensuing explosion to his advantage.
  • Destination Defenestration: Semyon, at the hands of a completely sloshed Vereshchagin.
  • Dramatic Irony: Vereshchagin just cleared out all the bandits on the barge, and is heading to shore to deal with Abdullah and rescue Sukhov. His wife, previously terrified that he's about to get killed, is relieved to see him safe and sound. But the viewer and Sukhov both know that the barge is rigged to blow up shortly after the motor starts.
  • The Gunslinger: Comrade Sukhov.
  • Good Guns, Bad Guns: Inverted. In Soviet media the Mauser C96 is a classic Good Gun outside of their WWII works, strongly associated with the Bolsheviks and Red October, but in that movie it's used by Big Bad.
  • Improbable Use of a Weapon: Semyon, for some inexplicable reason, carries a katana.
    • Quite probably he once served the Japanese-backed warlordship of General Semyonov, where ample opportunities to loot swords from dead Japanese officers existed.
  • In the Back: Djavded's Off Stage Villainy includes killing Sayid's father that way. Sayid is dressed in an old robe with two bullet holes in the back for most of the movie.
  • I Owe You My Life: Sayid was saved by Sukhov and since that feels himself in debt to save Sukhov.
  • Kick the Dog: Black Abdullah. He killed an innocent museum curator even without wasting time to interrogate him. And this was just the beginning.
  • Leave Him to Me!: "If you'll meet Djavded, don't hurt him. He's mine."
  • Mood Whiplash: The film's tone is best described as "optimistically downbeat with more than one moment of humour".
  • Na├»ve Newcomer / New Meat: Petrukha, young soldier commanded to assist Sukhov.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Rigging the ship Abdullah and his men want to use in their escape to blow up *seems* like a good idea.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Abdullah could have done absolutely anything about Vereshchagin other than insult him as an old man, then let him go, and the result probably would have been a villain victory.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: Sayid, who is the Asian equivalent of Honest Indian.
  • Offscreen Teleportation: The usual way of Sayid's relocations.
  • One-Man Army: Lampshaded. The Red Army commander who entrusts Sukhov with the harem mission says that he "is worth an entire battalion by himself".
  • Retired Badass: Vereshchagin. Awesome way of retirement: endless supplies of vodka, black caviar and peacocks.
  • Sadistic Choice: Sub-lieutenant Semyon, having captured Sukhov, asks him, whether he wants "to be killed at once or suffer for a while first". Sukhov says that "suffering is better, of course".
  • Sand Necktie: Sayid was buried alive in sizzling hot sand by Djavded (off screen) and dug out by Sukhov.
  • Social Darwinist: Black Abdullah.
  • Still Wearing the Old Colors: Semyon is a former White Guard sub-lieutenant and still looks the part.
    • His sword lets us pinpoint his former allegiance more precisely. He only could acquire a katana in the Far Eastern White remnant, which was backed by Japanese troops for a short period of time. Yet his rank is army, not Cossack, so he could not be a Cossack of General Semyonov's troops originally. So, most likely, he was part of General Kappel's army that escaped to Transbaikal and joined Semyonov's forces after Admiral Kolchak's arrest and execution.
  • Token Enemy Minority: Inverted: one of Abdullah's henchmen is a White Russian officer.
  • What Measure Is a Mook?: Villainous variation of the trope. Abdullah shows little care for his mooks. When he captures Sayid, he shows no grudge for killing his men, but only astonishment why Sayid killed them - "I've sent them only to tell you not to seek for Djavded in a dry creek: he's not there!"
  • Unwanted Harem: Literally.
  • You Killed My Father: Sayid shall never know peace till he finds and kills Djavded.