Dan Heaton

Military hero Colonel Sergei Petrovich Kotov (Nikita Mikhalkov) has taken temporary leave of his position and is spending a relaxing vacation with his wife Marusya's family in the country. Rowing down a scenic river with his charming young daughter Nadia (Nadezdha Mikhalkov), he seems at complete peace with his life. Everything feels idyllic away from the cities, but the rule of Stalin in 1936 was fraught with paranoia and unfair practices. Considering his celebrated status with the government, Kotov could not imagine being considered a traitor to his country. Even as they glide down the river, however, the secret police is mobilizing to destroy the popular figure.

Burnt by the Sun received the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1995 and is dedicated to "those who were burnt by the sun of revolution." Renowned director Nikita Mikhalkov filmed, starred, and co-wrote this emotional tale, which depicts the cruel removal of a happy, patriotic man. The shooting style is very straightforward, but odd supernatural moments exist that seem out of place in this historical tale. A bright yellow sphere resembling a sun appears several times, and a large balloon towing a Stalin banner provides the obvious symbolism. These items may have felt original when initially created, but on the screen they distract from the central human story.

The film begins in promising fashion, with Kotov halting the movement of Russian tanks across the farmers' wheat crops. These moments inject just the right amount of whimsy and fun while presenting his powerful nature. Life becomes more complicated with the mysterious arrival of Mitya (Oleg Menshikov) – Marusya's lost love – for unexplained reasons. She is torn between her devotion to Kotov and lingering feelings for the younger, handsome Mitya. Unfortunately, the pace drags considerably during this middle hour and takes far too long to get moving again. By the time his motives become clear, my overall interest had diminished to a much lesser degree. Several engaging scenes do occur, including the arrival of citizens extremely concerned with a gas attack, but nothing offers any remarkable material.

Burnt by the Sun saves itself with a poignant, sad finale that is expected but still very difficult to take. Mikhalkov spends the first 90 minutes drawing us to Kotov's humanity and love for his family. While this connection should not take this long, it still creates a purposely frustrating tension during the last act. Especially touching is the tender relationship between the real-life father and daughter. The six-year-old Nadia virtually becomes the story's most interesting character by showcasing her father's strong personality. Mitya is obviously not telling us everything, and his true motives are never entirely clear by the film's end. Dragging substantially for far too long, this picture is not easy viewing for most audiences. Mikhalkov's purpose is laudatory, but the execution could have been improved significantly.