Burnt by the Sun
If one were to biologically engineer a movie to win the Oscar for Best Foreign film, one could do no better than by following the genetic patterns of Nikita Mikhalkov's Burnt by the Sun (1994). Mikhalkov wrote, directed, and starred in the piece (the Academy always loves rewarding actors), and the film is a portrait of a bittersweet time as Stalin's reign became suffocating, leaving the viewer with a taste of injustice quelled by knowing that it too has past. Told in flashback, the film follows Col. Sergei Petrovich Kotov (Mikhalkov) as he spends the summer at his country home with his family. Trouble arrives when Mitia (Oleg Menishikov) shows up at their home, as he is Kotov's wife's ex-lover. It turns out that Mitia's love of Maruisa (Ingeborga Dapkunait) is unrequited, and on some level he blames Kotov. Thus, this sweet, idyllic life soon is called into question with the intrusion of the outsider, who's profession is something of a mystery. Running 134 minutes, Burnt by the Sun shows how this family and the life of people like Kotov a man who was a part of Lenin's revolution were destroyed by Stalin's corrupting power. Like Roberto Beginini's Life is Beautiful, there's something cloying about this kind of movie; perhaps it's because it exists as a way for those to deal with unresolved frustrations. But for those who simply are trying to watch a movie, it comes off as a little too obvious, and without any real depth or perspective on the subject matter. Or perhaps it's because the audience is aware that every sunny day or portrait of the characters having fun exists to be a counterpart to their later suffering. Maybe most damning of all is Mikhalov's performance, which comes off as a little smug. Whatever the case, the film grates in the way only films that feel righteous can. Columbia TriStar presents Burnt by the Sun in widescreen (1.62:1) with the original Russian audio; the English subtitles are burned-in and not digital. Bonus trailers, keep-case.