By the early '90s, it was finally possible for filmmakers working in the former Soviet Union to deal honestly with the horrors of the 1930s, when Stalin and his regime "reassessed" the contributions of many heroes of the Revolution, resulting in mass imprisonments and death for many millions. Nikita Mikhalkov's brilliant film about those dark days is ironically set at a sunny summer retreat where Serguei Petrovich Kotov (Mikhalkov), an officer who has been honored for his contributions to the success of the state, and his family are enjoying an idyllic summer's day. The film's deliberate pacing for a full half-hour (we might think we're watching the Russian equivalent of Renoir's Partie De Campagne) lulls the viewer into a false sense of serenity. When Dimitri, an old lover of Kotov's young wife and now a government official, arrives, Mikhalkov allows our suspicion that Dimitri's visit isn't merely personal to accumulate slowly. The film flirts with sentimentality, especially in casting Mikhalkov's real-life daughter as Kotov's irresistibly cute little girl, but after all, the filmmaker's goal is to show the toll that a repressive political regime can exact on the lives of individual citizens.
by Tom Wiener review