suggests the Red Army was often less than heroic during the Second World War,
and implies treason is sometimes an understandable option during unreasonable
times. You had better believe it was banned by the Soviet government. Frankly,
it is hard to imagine how it was ever greenlighted in the first place. Of
course, by western standards, it is a relatively restrained portrayal of the absurdity
and petty cruelty of war, but it was far too potent for the state authorities. There
will be little glory and absolutely no fun whatsoever to be found in war
throughout Aleksei Guerman’s Trial on the
Road, which screens during Anthology Film Archive’s mini Guerman film series.
Army Sergeant Alexander Lazarev defected to the Germans, lured by the promise
of an easier life. In the short term, he would have been considerably more
comfortable if he had stayed with the Germans. However, he allows himself to be
captured out of a rekindled sense of patriotism. Naturally, he meets with a
decidedly mixed receptive. Many new comrades, including the unit’s political
officer, are in favor of summary execution.
the nominal commanding officer has other ideas. He would much prefer to see
Lazarev die a redemptive death during a recklessly dangerous assignment. While
there is no shortage of peril during Lazarev’s missions, it just seems like
everyone else does all the dying.
a Communist censor’s perspective, that kneejerk political officer has to be
especially problematic, but Trial is veritable
minefield of objectionable material. Its entire interpretation of reality
contradicts the old Soviet mother-myth of the “Great Patriotic War.” People are
cheap and the Communist war machine will dispose of them as it pleases.
Zamansky is absolutely riveting as Lazarev. He is a completely convincing
battle-hardened and world-weary hardnose, but when he periodically breaks down,
overwhelmed by pointless barbarity of the war, it is heavy stuff. Likewise,
Oleg Borisov supplies a powerful counterpunch as Solomin, one of Lazarev’s
bitterest detractors, who pays dearly for a lesson in forgiveness.
is an incredible film that combines tragedy and
absurdity in a manner that feels so quintessentially Russian. The striking
black-and-white cinematography and slightly surreal backdrops also show the
early, subtle hallmarks of Guerman’s mature style. It is a shame Trial (his first sole directorial
credit) and My Friend Ivan Lapshin (his third film, not released fourteen years later), were censored for so long.
He was an extraordinary cinematic storyteller and stylist, but he was on the
outs with the Soviet power structure during most of what should have been his
peak creative years. Once again, the entire world has been impoverished by
Communism. One of the best war films you will see on a New York screen this
year, Trial on the Road screens again
this Tuesday (2/10) as part of Anthology Film Archives’ Guerman mini-retrospective.
Labels: Aleksey German, Russian Cinema, WWII Cinema