NO PATH THROUGH FIRE (Gleb Panfilov, 1967)

The same year as the enormously expensive, spectacular War and Peace (Sergei Bondarchuk, 1967), another war film emerged from the U.S.S.R.—this one, modest, in black and white, and twenty times better. Gleb Panfilov’s V ogne broda net is a tremendous achievement.

In 1917 civil war-torn Russia, as the Revolution approaches, young Tanya, a peasant, works as an orderly on a hospital train, dabbling in Bolshevik artwork, and eagerly awaiting what nothing can hold back. She desires death for all the “tormentors”; “The people,” she laments, “are suffering.”

Life is something that is stolen in the meantime. Tanya falls in love with a soldier; they frolic in a field she finds “beautiful.” A commissar onboard the train feels useless tending to the Red Army’s wounded; he wants to get to the front.

So much expectancy; so much anticipation.

I don’t know how many times I’ve watched scenes in other films where lovers part as the boy boards a train that will take him into combat. The one here devastates as no other. Indeed, the entire film is urgent and overwhelming. This is the rare film that really does seem to transport us back into the past. Panfilov’s camera is liberated; every shot aches with immediacy.

The closing shot is a freeze frame on Tanya’s face as her hopes for the future snap in the face of her own imminent death by a White Army officer after she sees that someone she knows has been taken prisoner. The closing shot captures Tanya’s struggle to hold onto her innocence.

This is the film that made a star of Panfilov’s wife, Inna Churikova, who plays Tanya with great resourcefulness and passion. Tarkovsky’s Anatoliy Solonitsyn is brilliant as Commissar Yevstryukov.

Winner of the top prize at Locarno.

 

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