Made towards the end of Khruschev's "thaw", when artists were allowed outona looser rein, the film depicts an accidental hero: a somewhat gormless,naive, gawky country boy drafted into the front line. His bravery ismomentary and reflexive but wins him a coveted spot of leave. (The Red Armydid not give its soldiers any time off in the ordinary way.) He tries togetback to his home village long enough to put a new roof on his mother'sshackof a house, but is delayed en route, and has time only to greet her and saygoodbye before returning to duty and death.
Alyosha is swimming against the tide. The Soviets are pushing forward,pushing the Germans out of their land, but he encounters more chaos, miseryand stoic endurance than jubilation: a one-legged veteran who fears hiswifewill spurn him, a mother driving a lorry whose son was killed, a surlyrear-echelon private who tries to kick him off the train on which he andhisequally shy girlfriend have bummed a ride. The atmosphere of disruption, ofthousands of lives turned upside down, is brilliantly accumulated by suchcameos with hardly any actual 'action'.
There is no Communist preaching to speak of, and significantly the spokennarrative over the sky at the end says: "He would have been a fine man...but we remember him just as a soldier- a Russian soldier." Not as aBolshevik comrade, not as a freedom-fighter against fascism: the film istrue to the truth of the "Great Patriotic War", in which millions ofAlyoshas fought and died for their patch of earth, not for ideology orStalin.
Chukhrai's later movies have not been seen widely in the West. They shouldbe.