Ballad of a Soldier: Criterion Collection

January 28, 2012 6 Min Read

Review by: Fusion3600

Plot: What’s it about?

Alyosha Skvortsov (Vladimir Ivashov) is a simple soldier in the Russian military, but he becomes a genuine hero by risking his life to save his fellow soldiers. He is only nineteen years old, but he displays courage beyond his years when he faced down a band of Nazis in the field, including two powerful tanks. Alyosha took action and did what he could to fend off the enemies and save those around them, with a blend of courage, reflexes, and fear. After he and the others survive the situation due to his leadership, he is called to meet with some of the highest ranking men in the Russian forces. Once he has arrived, the general informs Alyosha that he has learned of his brave actions and he has nominated him for a medal of valor, an award that would make any soldier proud, without question. But Alyosha requests some time off instead, so that he can return home to visit his mother and fix the roof of her simple home. After some reluctance, the request is granted, but Alyosha has only six days to venture home and then he must return to the field, where he will go back into the conflict. As he boards a train to return home, Alyosha will travel through lands trampled by war and people of all kinds, some crushed by the conflict and others with eternal hope, but what will become of Alyosha once his six days have passed?

A lot of films that focus on the horrific consequences of war often wind up preaching or even whining to the audience, but with Grigori Chukhrai’s Ballad of a Soldier, we’re given a powerful, realistic take on the subject matter. The film succeeds because it always seems very natural and remains anchored in reality based events, which is important with this kind of material, since the focus is on characters, as opposed to special effects or the like. I’ve heard some people complain that the kindness of the lead character is unrealistic, but I think it works within the film, its just that we’ve forgotten that someone like him can exist. His deeds do sometimes seem like too much, but it is never forced through the material and if you just look past the disbelief that such a generous person exists, you’ll be won over by Ballad of a Soldier. The pace moves at a nice clip, but this is not an action movie by any means, as the story advances through the characters and as such, don’t expect large scale battles and such here. I think Ballad of a Soldier is the kind of movie that gets better each time, thanks to a simple, but powerful storyline lined with memorable characters, so don’t hesitate to add this disc to your collection.

Video: How does it look?

Ballad of a Soldier is presented in a full frame transfer, as intended. As usual, Criterion struck a new print for this release and then used digital restoration efforts to further enhance the image, which looks excellent, to be sure. The print does have some minor flaws, but looks stunning at times and always appears to be very clean. I’d only seen this film in a low grade VHS version, so I can’t say how much of an improvement this transfer is, but based on my experiences, it is night & day on all fronts. The contrast is rich and stark, which means detail is high and the image is never burdened by murkiness or overexposure, not even for a second. This is a wonderful treatment on all accounts, another superb restoration effort from Criterion.

Audio: How does it sound?

The film’s original Russian soundtrack is preserved via a mono option, which has been restored & remastered for this release. The methods used to clean up the materials has paid off, as I heard no hiss of any kind and harshness was minimal, this is an excellent overall mix, especially for a film made in 1959. The dialogue is crystal clear and has no flaws, while sound effects are clean also and sound terrific here. This is a mono track however, so don’t expect much depth or range, but Criterion has done some wonderful work here. This disc also includes optional English subtitles, should you need those.

Supplements: What are the extras?

This disc includes an audio interview with director Grigori Chukhrai, as well as stars Vladimir Ivashov and Zhanna Prokhorenko, which is supplemented by still photos that run as the interview advances.

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