Mark Morris

A cheery summer in the country is eventually overshadowed by Stalin's show trials in this Oscar-winning Russian film

Burnt by the Sun starts with a man in a grey Moscow apartment in 1936 considering blowing his head off. This scene is absolutely vital as it casts a darker shadow over the subsequent action – most of which is people messing around at a country retreat. Without this shadow, the knockabout material of the eccentrics gathered around revolutionary hero Kotov (Mikhalkov) would be tiresomely whimsical. But much of it is charming, not least when Kotov is summoned to stop a tank regiment driving over a wheat field.

Into the pleasant world of Kotov, his young wife and child, grandmothers and assorted hangers-on comes Mitya (Menshikov), the young man playing with a gun at the beginning. Mitya causes tension almost immediately because he's an old flame of Kotov's wife Marusya (Dapkunayte). Mitya's flirting with Marusya and assumption of the mantle of uncle to their daughter annoys Kotov while blinding him to the real purpose of Mitya's presence.

Burnt by the Sun is explicitly about the madness of the Russian Revolution, especially during the Stalin years, as thousands of loyal Bolsheviks were purged, often incriminated by friends who would find themselves in front of the firing squad a year later. But it also makes it easier to understand how people lived through it all: that the sun still shone, people still played football, went swimming and had drunken sing-alongs.

Verdict: An audacious film where the jocular surface eventually gives way to show the brutal horror of the situation.