THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications, Inc. DATE: Friday, August 4, 1995 TAG: 9508040047 SECTION: DAILY BREAK PAGE: E9 EDITION: FINAL TYPE: Movie Review SOURCE: BY MAL VINCENT, MOVIE CRITIC LENGTH: Medium: 72 lines
AN IDYLLIC summer holiday is interrupted by subtle, but ominous, tension in Nikita Mikhalkov's brilliant, highly personal drama ``Burnt By the Sun.''
The most prominent Russian movie to receive wide American release in the post-Soviet era, this Oscar winner (for best foreign language film) shows that the former Communists are able to unabashedly study the painful legacy of their history.
On the surface, all is charm and bright conversation in this Chekhov-like family. Seething beneath the surface are the jealousies of a past love plus the oncoming assault of the infamous Stalin purges.
It is 1936, a time when Stalin has launched a campaign of political terror to consolidate his power. Col. Sergei Kotov, a great national hero of the Bolshevik revolution, is enjoying the sweet family life of summer with his lovely, young wife Maroussia and their precocious, vivacious 6-year-old daughter Nadia.
An obtrusive, but seemingly charming, visitor shows up in the person of Dimitri, a handsome man who was once the young wife's lover. She hasn't seen him for 10 years but he worms himself into the family life easily, tap-dancing, spinning yarns, and flirting.
The audience is immediately put on guard. So is the colonel. As played by the film's director and co-writer, Nikita Mikhalkov, the older man is a vibrant, sexual, proud and callous man who knows his own popularity with the people, but doubts his wife. The doubts are shown in the most subtle of glances. He watches Dimitri at every turn. They watch each other. They perform a challenge ritual of dramatic conflict.
The director uses visual imagery with great invention. A broken bottle is spotted by Dimitri and, even though he sees it may cut the colonel's bare feet, he doesn't warn him. In one quick close-up, director Mikhalkov has conveyed more tension than other directors might need 30 minutes to establish.
It is not long before we learn that the drama is not just to be a triangle involving rekindled love. There's a spy in our midst; political and personal dramas merge.
The director also has the lead role as the aging hero. He brings a fine sympathy to the part with a kind, introverted look that immediately wins us to his side. The visitor is played by Oleg Menchikov with a handsome bearing that shows us how he can charm those around us but also lets us know that the man is never to be trusted.
The most charming figure, and the only one without a double standard, is 6-year-old Nadia Mikhalkov, the daughter of the director. (It was this delightfully unaffected child that you saw at the podium during this year's Oscar telecast).
``Burnt By the Sun'' shows us just how much evil can be played in the guise of charm and subterfuge. In its emotional involvement, it reaches a rare cinematic level of tragic grandeur. MEMO: MOVIE REVIEW ``Burnt By the Sun''
Cast: Nikita Mikhalkov, Oleg Menchikov, Ingeborga Dapkounaite, Nadia
Director: Nikita Mikhalkov
Screenplay: Nikita Mikhalkov and Roustam Ibraguimbekov
Music: Edouard Artemiev
MPAA rating: R (suggested sex, some violence)
Mal's rating: four stars
Location: Naro in Norfolk ILLUSTRATION: SONY PICTURES photo
The most charming figure in ``Burnt By the Sun'' is 6-year-old Nadia
Mikhalkov, the daughter of the director.