Ballad of a Soldier
Now we're into a very good stretch. I don't what is with Ballads but the next three, all with Ballad in the title, were all great. One made it to my new favorites list, another might be on there - I'll have to think about it - and there's this one which didn't make it to my new favorites but I was still mightily impressed by it. Ballad of a Soldier was made in the USSR in 1959. It's not a propaganda film like The Army but the movie is clearly meant to generate good feelings and nostalgia for World War II. It's also basically the Soviet Union's answer to Titanic. It's romantic, it's a an incredible feel good movie, yet it has an ending that is a weapons grade tearjerker. And that's not a contradiction. You can't get the tears to flow with getting the audience engaged and keeping them entertained up until the ending.
The story takes place in World War II. The main character, 19 year old Alyosha knocks out two German tanks. As a reward he's given a six day furlough to go back to his village and spend a day or two with his mother. Alyosha sets off. It's not an easy trip as the Germans are still on the offensive. Along the way Alyosha meets a whole bunch of people. He's a good kid, a boy scout really, and tries to help where he can. He helps a wounded veteran make it back home to his wife. He delivers a present (two cakes of soap) to the wife of a soldier at the front. When he discovers the wife has shacked up with another man, he takes the soap to the soldier's sick father instead and makes up a few stories about a man he just barely met.
Alyosha finds a traveling companion in the young Shura, a girl who jumps into the train car he's riding in. Their first meeting is hilarious. Also a hoot is the guard whom they have to bribe to stay on the car. There's a hilarious joke with the guard and the lieutenant he calls, "a beast."
All these side trips plus the destruction of a bridge means that when Alyosha finally does arrive at the village he has to kiss his mother and then turn around right away. That's where the ending comes in. It's incredibly manipulative but it works. The audience is cheering for Alyosha and all the while dreading that he will have to turn around before he finds his mother. But he does find her and that one moment is incredible between them. We know from the opener that Alyosha will die during the war so this is the last his mother will see of him. My brother and I talk about some movies like the Toy Story series and compare them to the Marvel super villain Psycho-Man. Psycho-Man has this tablet like device that can make people feel a range of emotions. And some movies it's like the director has Psycho-Man's device and he keeps pushing the button that says "CRY!" And that's what the final scene is like. We've come to really like this kid. The moment between the two characters is so universal and so real that it feels like someone is hitting the CRY button over and over again.
This movie is very well directed and it has a top notch script. It may be due for rediscovery. It's well worth watching.