Ballad of asoldier
Grigori Chukhrai’s “Ballad of a Soldier” is one of the awardwinning classical Russian films. The film tells the story of a youngRussian soldier at war against the Germans. The film, which is inblack and white, applies cinematographic techniques, angles,mise-en-scene and sound to drive certain messages and elicit certainemotions among the audience. The roads in the film are used to depictconnections between points in the same way emotions are used as aconnection between individuals that all affected in various ways bywar by looking at three main scenes.
The movie opens up to scene that portrays a long dusty village roadthat disappears into the horizon. By the film starting at thisparticular scene, shows that the village is far removed from the restof the world but still has an important connection to it through theroad. The road is dusty and seemingly conditioned by the day’sstandards. However, the road is seemingly lifeless and lonely withonly grass surrounding it all the way to the horizon. The woman inthe scene is wearing a forlorn look and stares far into the horizonwhere the road disappears to create an impression that she isexpecting something or someone to come by the road and she is notvery hopeful about it.
The Mise-en-scene in this scene captures important elements to drivea key message home. The décor used in this scene shows dry grassblowing in the wind. The grass is exposed to the elements of natureas it is not protected by any trees or even higher vegetation. Theland is not cultivated suggesting its barrenness and infertility.There are no trees in the background too which brings up the use ofrear projection. In way, this sort of denies a larger connectionbetween the road and the vegetation. The road is depicted as a rudeinterruption to the natural cover of grass that extends from theforeground to the rear. The lack of sound also shows how lifeless theplace is.
The rear projection seeks to offer continuity to the foregroundactivities. The projection is simple and even cheap to set up. Italso displays some décor that is absent in the foreground of patchesof shadows depicted through shapeless darker forms over thegrassland. The rear projection also provides constancy in thetopography of the land and vegetation. This is evident in the absenceof hills or trees in the horizon to suggest monotony in the area andlack of excitement in life generally for the woman. Her life is bald,monotonous and lifeless. She misses something in her life same as theland.
The scene, being set outside, seeks to depict natural light. Thecombined use of lighting and color however, is limited by the use ofblack and white colors despite color cinematography have been in wideuse in 1959. The director utilized 3-point lighting to create shadowsof long grass. One right the front of the scene with the camera atthe back of the lady, there is a shadow of the grass on the rightwith natural sunlight being from the right. The same case is repeatedwith the lady when her shadow falls on her left side as she walksbriefly along the road facing the horizon. Such peaceful use of lightalso captures the peace in the village compared to horrors of the warin other scenes. Such tranquility shows how those not directlyengaged in war are involved emotionally with those at war. Thedifferent places of war and peace are connected by roads too.
The scene also utilizes deep space. This is evident in the way thedirector allows the positioning of the camera to capture thesplitting of the road at the foreground and lady walking on the roadat a distant from the camera. This differs from shallow space wherethere is usually no background or images placed at a distant from thecamera and also intended for the specific frame. This is kind ofshallow space is evident in other scenes in the film especially thosedepicting close ups between two individuals.
The second scene that captures the role of roads in the film involvesthe train wreck. The destroyed rail road and train capture thedestroyed dreams, hope and peace of the people as a result of thewar. The role the railroad plays in the lives of the people includingthe soldiers is evident through the film. For the soldiers, it is ameans of transporting troops and armor. For the ordinary, it is ameans of transport from one point to the other. Although Alyisha doesnot much attach significant importance to the train given that he canafford to miss two trains as a result of his human nature, the samecannot be said of the other characters in the film. The girl thatAlyosha meets, Shura, is very concerned about losing her bag in thetrain. She is worried that she will lose her belongings including herbread. This shows that while the trains offer hopes and dreams, theyhave also their challenges too. However, such challenges do notwarrant the destruction portrayed in this scene. It is here that wesee young children exposed to the horrors of war and the good natureof Alyisha is displayed as he goes about helping children and an oldwoman from the resulting fire. The cries of despair drive the samemessage home about the agony of the people.
In this scene, the film utilizes shallow focus to capture theemotions of the children and the people in agony and despair afterthe train wreck. Chukhrai uses this tactic to capture the emotions ofcharacters. This tactic is widely use through the scene from the veryfirst scene of Alyisha’s mother, when Shura and Alyisha hug in thetrain, when Alyisha meets her mother during his leave and in manyother occasions. This tactic is informed by the need to give emphasison one element in a scene such as a close up of a characters face.
In the various scenes in the battle field, tanks make road outnothing. A good example is when Alyisha shoots two tanks in a soloeffort. The Tanks are seen marauding all over and the film utilizesfollowing shot to show the movement of the tanks. In several cases,the film makes use of extreme canted framing where the camera iskeeping an oncoming tank in the frame and ends up inverting thecamera to give an inverted image. This emphasizes the chaos in thebattlefield and even the instability present there. This kind ofinstability is also seen when the Alyisha drives with his general ona jeep and the camera shakes to portray the ruggedness of the roadthey are driving on. This drive is also accompanied to softbackground piano music which shuts out the noisy confusion of thebattleground. This captures of the relative peace of the twoindividuals in focus against the surrounding confusion.
The idea of tanks creating roads of nowhere shows that connectionscan be made where they do not exist. The same connection is madebetween Shura and Alyisha in the train. The two had never met priorto their coincidental meeting in the train. Soon after several hoursof talking to each other, the two are considering friendship andstrike very intimate and romantic poses. The two create an emotionalconnection that however, does not last very long. This breakdown inthis communication, same as the breakdown in the rail road, iscaptured when Alyisha recalls his conversation with Alyisha. It isclear there is a breakdown in their connection as Alyisha imagineswords that Shura never said and even tries to make meaning out ofsome of her words.
Ballad of a Soldier is definitely one of the top classical films. Thedirector utilizes some very savvy techniques to drive his messagehome and show the place of roads in wartime Russia. Although the filmportrays the case of Russia, it shows the motions and emotions thatthe people directly involved in war and those not are affected. Italso shows that the same way that war destroys roads as communicationlines that aid troops in the battle, relationships and emotionalconnection are destroyed by the way throwing people into confusionand disarray.
Chukhrai,Grigori, , 1969.