January 11, 2021

Anniversary of Father of a Soldier

On January 11, 1965 at the Tbilisi Palace of Pioneers, Georgian SSR, a pre-premiere screening of Rezo Chkheidze's film "Father of a Soldier" took place. Then, on May 9 of the same year, as part of the celebration of Victory Day, the film was shown in Moscow, and on May 13, a wide screening of the picture began in all cinemas of the Soviet Union.

The script of the film was written by Suliko Jgenti, who during the Great Patriotic War volunteered for the front. In his script, S. Jgenti described a real fellow soldier, and even his name was saved.

In the first year of the film’s demonstration, 23.8 million Soviet moviegoers watched it. It is difficult to say what financial indicators this success the audience has turned for, we do not have such data. And in the absence of reliable data, it is necessary to analyze indirect data. So, at about the same time, only a year later, the movie "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" (We took this film only because of comparability of audience success indicators.) In the USA, this film was watched by 25.7 million moviegoers. And the Virginia box office was $ 28 million.

We are aware that the prices of cinema tickets in the USSR and in the USA in the 60s of the last century varied significantly. But the cost of producing a film differed no less. If not more: Virginia cost $ 7.5 million, and Father of the Soldier 360 thousand. Rubles. And how did the party and government evaluate the film’s obvious significant contribution to the state budget? Virtually nothing. Moreover, for the cost overrun of the planned budget for the production of the film, the film crew was left without premiums, and the film was initially assigned only the third category. True, the leading actor, the great Georgian actor Sergo Zakariadze, was awarded the Lenin Prize, the Lenin Komsomol Prize and the Moscow Film Festival Prize for Best Actor. And only 5 years later, the director of the film, Rezo Chkheidze, was awarded the prize by the Georgian Central Committee of the Komsomol.

The film was presented in a number of European countries. In February 1966, it premiered in New York. However, judging by the almost complete absence of reviews of this film in the American press, the picture of Chkheidze was not awarded a wide display. However, I still found a couple of reviews by American professional film critics.

One of them came out of the pen of the New York Times movie reviewer, the mouthpiece of the US Democratic Party, Howard Thompson. In his review, H. Thompson wrote: "A NEW movie program from the Soviet Union, comprising the feature called "Father of a Soldier" and a 45-minute film titled "A Ballad of Love," opened the new Regency Theater on Saturday at Broadway and 67th Street....Toward the all too predictable and contrived climax, there is one splendidly written and played scene when the indignant old man stops some Soviet tanks from flattening a vineyard. And Mr. Zakhariadze is truly affecting when he wordlessly cradles his dying son in his arms.But while the picture itself is well produced and graphically directed by Rezo Chkeidze, it remains in a rather plodding and even familiar format, with a sentimentality all but punctured by Mr. Zakhariadze's stentorian bellowing."- By Howard Thompson, Feb. 21, 1966, The New York Times

The second of the reviews I have found in the American press belongs to Dennis Grunes, who is considered a specialist on culture of Eastern Europe. In a publication entitled "100 GREAT FILMS FROM THE SOVIET UNION, RUSSIA, UKRAINE AND EASTERN EUROPE" D. Grunis, in particular, wrote: "This humanistic tragicomedy—its Georgian title is Djariskatsis mama; Russian, Otyets soldata—was written by Suliko Zhgenti and directed by Rezo Chkheidze. His trek across Soviet land identifies Georgy with this land; he is Soviet—but not Russian. Even his name reminds us he is Georgian, as do his interactions with Russians throughout. Politically, Russia dominates and controls the nation; ethnic republics have the paradoxical status of being quasi-satellites within national borders. Yet it is Georgy Makharashvili who, by film’s end, has accumulated the iconographic texture of Soviet spirit. Deepening this irony, Georgy vaguely resembles another man from Georgia: the Soviet Union’s leader at the time the film is set."

Perhaps it is only my perverted ear which hears in the above reviews not only and not so much an assessment of the artistic merits of the film masterpiece Rezo Chkheidze but also anti-Soviet and anti-Russian propaganda?

However, no matter how hard the American propagandists try, the viewer, and in all countries, draws his conclusion. 77% of IMDB and Kinopoisk users gave this film a rating of 8 or higher. And 36% of users around the world generally rated the movie with 10 points.

Therefore, in our opinion, the most adequate and generalizing most reviews of ordinary moviegoers is the review of IMDB user under the nickname "darima": "I have never even thought about that movie as Georgian. For me - it is a movie of human heart (which is international and has nor borders). I remember when I first watched it - I was not able to fall asleep. The movie had already finished, but I was still crying my heart away. Since that I have seen it a few times and every time I cried (considering that usually I don't do it - for example - movies like Shindler's list can not make me cry). For me it is best movie I have ever seen about cruel essence of war. Movie, which is not declarative (like most soviet time movies about the war) or sentimental (like Spielberg's ones for example), but just so unbelievably touching. Just watch it, but have in mind - whether you want it or not - it will fill your heart with compassion and the process is sometimes quite painful."

According to FilmGourmand, the film "Father of the Soldier" has a rating of 8.266 and is ranked 428th in the Golden Thousand.