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Monday, July 29, 2013

Peace to Him Who Enters

(click here for the Romanian version)

May 1945. A German baby is born and he is peeing on a bunch of rifles. Is it Soviet weaponry, the new occupiers? Or is it rather German weaponry, war capture? We'll never know. We only know that the last day of war is also the first day of peace, and war means weaponry deciding on life, while peace means life ignoring weaponry.

A day earlier, Junior Lieutenant Ivlev, a fresh graduate of the military school, had come to duty, eager to prove his heroism and love for Motherland. Of course, he was a bit tensioned, it would have been his first day of war, and he didn't like the idea he was just a big boy, just out of teenage. He wanted arduously the baptism of fire. And the following evening, night and morning would indeed be for him a rite of passage, while not a rite of war, instead a rite of getting some basic truths of life.

The first lesson comes from his commander: before being Junior Lieutenant Ivlev he is just Sasha - the commander has passed through too much of war and likes to work with casual people, with a given name, or even a nickname, anything but abstract military ranks.

Sasha is given two privates under his command, along with a truck, and the order to carry a German pregnant woman to the hospital. It doesn't sound baptism of fire, however an order is always an order.

One of the privates, the truck driver, a dodger always eyes on chicks, teaches Sasha what casual heroism means. The driver is killed by a stray bullet, and the other private starts writing the name at the grave. The pencil also dies and just a word remains, soldier...

The other private, a bit older, does not speak any more, he remained chocked from a fight. During the night the truck passes a tunnel, and is met by a group of German teenagers, boys of sixteen, seventeen, enrolled. They shoot at the truck and then run away. One of them remains, defying the Russians and waiting to be killed. And this old soldier approaches the German and instead of shooting him, only pulls his pants down and gives him some belts - and the hero becomes again a kid, frightened and crying.

An unexpected encounter with another truck driver, an American GI this time, and Sasha will discover that people can understand each other even if each talks only his tongue.

The German woman is hostile to them, of course. Beside the language barrier there is the fact that she belongs to the defeated side and they are the conquerors. And her husband died in this war. However, little by little she will realize that these enemies are just normal people carrying her to the hospital.

Last day of war, first day of peace. The only sense of life so far has been hating the enemy. What will happen from now on?

We know very well now that the traces left by the war continued to poison everything for decades to come. However, in that day peace was entering the world with a message of its own: a new life was beginning, peeing on the symbols of war. That baby, if still alive today, would be my age. My generation, born in that year, we were the proof that something so horrible was over. For those looking for a new sense of life, there was an answer: Мир входящему, Peace to Him Who Enters!

Was this an intelligent propaganda movie? Maybe, however carrying a powerful message, beyond any propaganda: each new life is a new chance for a new world, without the past wars and injustices.

Three Soviet movies made by the end of the 1950's, during a political period of relative openness, all three speaking about war in a very special way: Баллада о солдате (Ballad of a Soldier) by Chukhray, Летят журавли (The Cranes Are Flying) by Kalatazov, and Мир входящему (Peace to Him Who Enters) by Alov and Naumov. I should also add Чистое Небо (Clear Heaven) by Chukhray, and Иваново детство (Ivan's Childhood) by Tarkovsky.

Мир входящему (Peace to Him Who Enters), 1961
Младший лейтенант Ивлев
(video by Russian Shots Supervis)

(Russian and Soviet Cinema)


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