White Sun of the Desert (1969)

Genres - Adventure, War  |   Sub-Genres - War Adventure, Adventure Drama  |   Run Time - 85 min.  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Yuri German

Soviet action-adventure films set during the Russian Civil War of 1918-1921 were often jokingly referred to as "easterns" since they used the conventions of the Western genre while transposing them to Eastern European settings. White Sun of the Desert took the genre even further east, to Central Asia, where fighting between the Red Army and the local nationalist forces continued well into the 1920s. This movie became a huge hit in its home country, largely because of its unabashed lyricism, deadpan humor, and the absence of the heavy ideological clich├ęs that permeated the genre at the time. Viewers could also sympathize with the folksy, resourceful protagonist who resembled more a character from Russian fairy tales than an actual Red Army soldier. And despite spouting revolutionary slogans in a poker-faced manner, Sukhov remained essentially an ordinary Russian with whom anybody could identify. Among the supporting cast, Pavel Luspekaev stood out as an honest former Czarist customs officer who was initially reluctant to help Sukhov and then came to the soldier's rescue. In fact, Luspekaev was already gravelly ill and he could hardly walk due to having his toes amputated. The film had a troubled production history, and the screenwriters, Valentin Yezhov and Rustam Ibragimbekov, had to fight state bureaucrats to keep the spirit of their work intact. Many lines from that film (e.g. "East is a delicate matter") became a part of Russian vernacular. Despite the rather lukewarm reception of the film by the Soviet cinematic establishment, it was enormously popular with ordinary moviegoers. It was reportedly the favorite movie of Soviet astronauts, constantly being played at their training center.