Louise Gray, Brigitte Scheffer, Vanessa Baird, Lizzie Francke

Set in 1936, Russian director Nikita Mikhalkov's latest film reflects on a period of history that it's only been possible to renegotiate in the past few years. Ostensibly, the film is reminiscent of a Chekhov play as a large eccentric family gathers for its summer holidays in a rambling house belonging to Sergeant Kotov, a military hero of the Russian Revolution. The days are eternally sunny and there is plenty of food and wine in the larder as Kotov relaxes with his young wife Marusya and their sprightly six-year-old daughter Nadia.

But into the idyll arrives Dmitry, a rather dashing young man who, it transpires, was Marusya's lover a decade earlier. This is not his only secret: he is on a mission to collect Kotov and take him back to Moscow. For Dmitry is a member of the newly-formed secret police, and Kotov has been targeted by Stalin for a show trial.

Burnt by the Sun is a film about betrayal in the most obvious of ways. A man who fought for the White Army while Kotov was on the side of the Revolution, Dmitry has been reinstated for the price of his dreadful task. But the film is equally concerned to draw on the more universal nature of emotional betrayal as the tensions between Kotov, Marusya and her former lover are explored. It is this, one suspects, rather than the politics, that helped the film win its Best Foreign Film Oscar at Hollywood this year.

In a rather loaded symbolism, fireballs become recurring motifs presaging destruction. It is the dark side to the sunny idyll – as if to say one shouldn't invest in any notion of perfection. Even as he is driven off to his execution, the ardent patriot Kotov still believes that one phone call to Stalin will sort out the "problem." But as the film draws to a conclusion, with little Nadia waving her daddy good-bye as he goes on his trip, the sun feels decidedly cold.