Oni srazhalis za rodinu (They Fought for Their Motherland) (1975)
Director: Sergey Bondarchuk.
Starring: Vasiliy Shukshin (Piotr Lopakhin), Vyacheslav Tikhonov (Nikolay Strel'tsov), Sergey Bondarchuk (Ivan Zvyagintsev), Georgiy Burkov (Alexandr Kopytovskij), Yuriy Nikulin (Nekrasov), Ivan Lapikov (Poprischenko), Nikolai Gubenko (Lieutenant), Andrei Rostotsky, Nikolai Volkov, Nikolai Shutko (Lisichenko), Yevgeni Samojlov, Nonna Mordyukova (Natalya Stepanovna), Lidiya Fedoseeva-Shukshina (Glasha), Innokentiy Smoktunovskiy (Doctor).
the battles before the Battle of Stalingrad
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
"For all those who survived, those who did not, and those who will come after."
Troops march along a road in a valley.
July 1942. The troops are anxious to take a break for they have been marching for 25 miles already. "The war had reached even this remote little farm lost in the vast steppes near the River Don." [The Don River is one of the major rivers of Russia. Tula is located south of Moscow. Southeast of Tula is Novomoskovsk. The river rises in the town of Novomoskovsk. It flows 60 kilometers southeast from Tula, southeast of Moscow, and flows for a distance of about 1,950 kilometers (1,220 mi) to the Sea of Azov. From Novomoskovsk it heads slightly southeast of south to Voronezh. From here the river goes southwest to the Sea of Azov. It flows into the Sea of Azov at its most northeastern point.]
Soldier Nikolai tells his buddy that he and his wife are separated, so he only gets letters from his son. He adds that she left him on the very first day of the war. His buddy says that's a shame.
A young looking soldier named Petya was supposed to go see the pretty female doctor, but he tells the cook that he changed his mind. He says he was just curious to see the woman.
Petya goes over to see Nikolai, who says he has a splitting headache. Petya says he's just depressed over their retreat. The two go down to the stream to go swimming. The two men are at odds because Petya is an optimist and Nikolai a pessimist. Nikolai says that a catastrophe has occurred. They've been marching for six days toward the Don. And then Stalingrad. He wants to know where's the troops' support and when are they going to stop pulling back? Petya tells Nikolai to stop all this whining. Next time, just fight harder. To get away from the pessimist, Petya jumps into the river. Nikolai follows him into the river.
Petya talks to a local peasant woman. She is mad at the soldiers because they are retreating and leaving them behind to face the Germans. She says she has her three sons and a son-in-law fighting in the army. Her fourth son was killed defending Sevastopol. Her scolding makes him feel bad and he walks away from her saying she might have a point there. Now she feels bad and gives him what he came for: some salt and a pail in which to boil some crayfish.
The group of friendly soldiers start boiling the crayfish in salty water. But then they see a convoy moving out. And they hear the sounds of fighting to their rear. So they have to go towards the fighting. Petya is frustrated by the thought that he won't get to enjoy the crayfish. They receive their order. They are to dig in on the ridge up above the farm, near the crossroads. They have to hold on at all costs until reinforcements arrive. A little farm boy waves to the soldiers as they march by.
The men start digging in. A German airplane strafes the men, but nobody is hit.
German tanks and infantry start approaching the Russian positions. It's a pretty scary sight alright. The tanks start firing. The Germans have quite a few tanks crippled by the Russians. They start to retreat. Now an air attack starts killing more of the Russian troops. The windmill behind them catches fire. Nikolai is hurt badly by a bomb. He struggles to get his wits back so he isn't overrun and killed by the Germans. The Germans start retreating again and the Russians chase after them. Nikolai cries as he cannot pursue the Germans. He is picked up later and taken to a hospital.
The steppes are set on fire. It's a sad sight to see for the Russian troops. Petya tells Ivan that Nikolai told him to take care of that Ivan character. So he's definitely going to keep an eye on Ivan. Ivan protests that Petya isn't much of a leader. He talks too much and he brags about himself. Changing things around on Petya, Ivan asks him about his troubles. Petya says he definitely has some. The Germans have taken his hometown and his wife and father are still there. And a lot of his hometown buddies are dead now.
Petya and Ivan complain about each other, but they start becoming more friendly to each other.
The men dig in again. Petya goes up to investigate a farm. He talks with the owner who says they are leaving and probably won't be able to come back for awhile because the Germans will blow up everything in sight. Petya gets some milk and talks with Glasha. He flirts with her a lot and tries to do more than that but Glasha is pretty strong and can handle herself well. He is so persistent that she finally tells him that if he is still around, they will be in the woods not too far from the farm. Petya can hardly wait to see her again. Of course, he has to stop the Germans first.
Petya brings some milk for the men. After awhile, Petya decides to go get some butter for the men. An air raid begins and Petya has to run back to his foxhole. He uses an anti-tank weapon to bring down a German plane.
After the air-raid the lieutenant calls Petya over and congratulates him on the downing of one of the aircraft. He then gets serious and tells Petya that they have to hold this bridgehead until the army has crossed the Don. The lieutenant then tells Petya to tell Akim to keep his eyes wide open. Petya delivers the message to Akim.
The cook digs a peculiar foxhole. He digs it so deep that he can stand up in it and fight.
The Germans are coming again. Soviet artillery opens up on the tanks. Petya takes out a tank with his weapon. Some of the German tanks go right over the foxholes and head into the town do do damage. Petya gets mad at soldier Sasha for not participating in the firing. He didn't even fire his weapon.
Another air raid over the Russian positions. The cook is killed. Soldier Ivan prays to God not to let him die. The air raid is over. But now come the tanks. They are destroying the whole town. And here come the Germans just calmly walking toward the Russian fox holes. Our prayer man keeps missing his target. He starts to get discouraged. Then a machine gun opens up on the Germans and that stops them for awhile. Our religious fellow is hit from behind when a mine goes off and he falls to the ground.
"Unsuccessful in their attempts to dislodge the defenders, the Germans broke off their attack. They took up positions on the heights. That evening, the Russian rearguard received orders to pull back across the River Don."
Petya cries because the young boy in the outfit who took out a German tank was killed. Sasha tells him to stop that crying. Lots of people were killed. One of the dead is Ivan, the man who Petya was supposed to watch over. Petya goes and finds Ivan. He is still alive. The little girl who helps the nurses talks with Ivan. She says he's going to be okay. Another bombardment occurs. The girl tries to move Ivan to where the medics are, but he's too heavy for her to handle. She cries. To cheer her up Ivan says he will get their on his own power. She pulls and he crawls.
The lieutenant got seriously wounded. Sasha and Petya catch up with their unit. Sasha says he's worried about getting across the River Don. He can't swim. He's very relieved to see rafts available on the riverbank. The lieutenant is dead on the riverbank.
The oldest man in the outfit who served now in four wars says some words over the body of the lieutenant. He promises the men that, though they are retreating now, they will be coming back to push the enemy out of Russia. They bury his body.
The soldiers joke around with each other. Then the old man comes to to tell them they have orders to go immediately to Talovsky Farm. That's where the division's command post is. The old man adds that the men will be together and not split up. Furthermore, they will soon be at the front in a crucial sector, which is a great honor and privilege
Ivan is in the infirmary. The doctor has to take his boots off with a knife. Ivan is upset about losing the boots, but the doctor says if he tried to pull them off, he would be pulling Ivan's legs off. The doctors have to pull each piece of shrapnel out of Ivan's back. There is no anesthesia available and it's tough on Ivan with his many wounds.
The old man is in command now. He says they can't make it all the way to headquarters today. They will stop here overnight and then finish the journey in the morning. The only problem is that there is no army food at where they are stopping. It's all been consumed. So Petya asks the soldier in charge of the food stores to billet them with a citizen of the town who has food. He requests that a younger woman be their hostess. The old man doesn't believe Petya's plan can work. How is this hostess going to be able to feed twenty-seven hungry soldiers?
And here comes Glasha. The old man doesn't like the way she looks. He says she's too big of a woman. Petya sticks up for her saying that he likes bigger women. He asks the old man to let him handle the woman. The old man says that she will crush Petya, but he says the younger man can deal with the woman.
Petya tries to win her over by helping her with all her chores. Glasha is ignoring Petya. The old man encourages Petya to win the woman over because everyone is hungry. He goes to conquer Glasha, but gets pushed out. The men all laugh at him.
In the morning Petya sports a black eye. The men laugh at him and his boasting that he could handle the woman. But he still tries to win her over. She apologizes for hitting him saying she shouldn't have done that. She says she has a husband who is in an army hospital. He might be coming home anytime. Petya says he approached her in the wrong way. She agrees. He says he seems to be losing his touch with women. He leaves her. But the men do get some food thanks to their leader, the old man. He talked to the president of the cooperative and explained how hard his men fought and how so many died doing their duty.
The men move out. Petya sees his friend Nikolai and rushes over to him. Nikolai is a changed man. He has a real hard time getting his sentences out and he has a terrible hand tremble. Nikolai explains that a bomb dropped near him and now he can't hear and he can't talk very well either. Petya thinks the guy's crazy being out here with the healthy group of men, but at the same time he has to admire the man's gumption.
The troops start heading to Stalingrad.
An officer thanks Petya's group for their great sacrifices for the motherland. "Our motherland will never forget your great efforts and your suffering! Thank you! I'm very proud."
"We'll take the banner of the great liberator-army to Berlin."
"And while we keep the love for our country in our hearts, and will keep it as long as our hearts go on beating, it's at the bayonet point that we'll always carry the hatred for our enemies."
The story is based on Mikhail Alexandrovich Sholokhov's novel of the same name as the film. A literature professor says it shows a war that was pretty cruel, with that "no woman's face". He says the portrayal of the soldiers was very good and I think that the quality is up there with some to the best American writings on wars. I kept saying to myself that the dialogue reminds me of the American war movies. A big difference is that in the Russian film there were no discussions of the different ethnic origin of the soldiers, but the USA isn't called the melting pot for nothing. At this stage of the game, the Russians did not know about all the despicable crimes against humanity the Germans were committing on the Ukranians and Russians. When the Russians took the offensive and pushed the Germans out, they saw and learned about the German atrocities. According to documentary films, many of the Russians were out for vengeance against the Russians. And some even relished killing every German they came across regardless of the situation.
I enjoyed watching the film. That Petya was quite the character. It was the bond of the men with each other that kept the men hanging on and fighting on. The camaraderie portrayed here is much like the camaraderie shown in the American films. The Russians are criticizing and teasing each other and getting a lot of laughs from the other soldiers.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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