We finished watching Burnt by the Sun last night — did it in two sittings. It wasn’t as good as I had expected it to be, given the awards it received and that I’ve seen what Russians filmmakers can do to portray the Stalin showtrial era.
On the one hand it’s good to show the humanity of the NKVD — that they were real people who could have a talented, artistic side and didn’t come out of the womb determined to do evil. And it takes some guts to portray it that way. Whenever anyone attempts to do a film that way about Hitler and the Nazis, there are some people who will object saying it makes light of evil, when in reality it’s just the opposite.
But even though this film is from 1994, it was not at all about the revolution eating its children, or eating its parents. It could have been from 1960s Soviet Russia with its tired old storyline of implicating the white russians in whatever evil there is.
And to show Colonel Kotov at the end, quickly broken down, his face horribly beaten up, in contrast to the idyllic life he and his family had been living until just moments before, is not as horrifying as the thought that people at the show trials could be made to confess to crimes they never committed without that kind of physical brutality being inflicted on them. Maybe I’ve read too many things like Arthur Koestler’s “Darkness at Noon.” But I think we need to learn more about how such things could happen, and this movie doesn’t help.
Once on RTR Planeta I saw a good part of a different movie about the Stalin show trials. Sorry, I don’t know nearly enough Russian to tell you much about it — there were no subtitles and I could pick out only a few words — fewer even then I would be able to now. But it seemed to follow the Maxim Gorky story in some respects, except the end was more like Darkness at Noon. I’ll bet it was the kind of movie that would help me understand the behavior, if I could understand the language. I’ll probably not see it again, because I doubt Putin would allow such a movie to be aired now.
After watching the movie, I went online looking for reviews. Here is one that’s impressively perceptive. It’s titled “No Soul” and is written by Alan A. Stone of Boston Review.