Starring: Izolda Izvitskaya, Oleg Strizhenov, Nikolay Kryuchov
Director: Grigoriy Chukray
Running Time: 88 mins
The Forty-First (Сорок первый) is a Soviet film about a female Red Army sniper and a male White Army officer who unexpectedly fall in love in the middle of the Russian Civil War when the officer is taken prisoner by the Reds.
This isn’t your typical romantic drama. Set in the middle of the desert at the height of the Russian Civil War, there’s just as many political undertones to this story as there are dishy romantic ones. On the whole, I can’t say that the story is the most enthralling you’ll ever see, and the film’s slow pace doesn’t really help that, but with its unique story, tie-ins with history, as well as strong performances and striking visuals, there were still parts of The Forty-First that did impress me.
So, yes, a man and a woman from opposing sides of a conflict falling in love isn’t anything new. However, this film doesn’t get all caught up in your typical Hollywood story about how love conquers all, and takes things in a rather more Soviet attitude, which is actually pretty interesting to see.
First of all, the fact that the film, while being in all truth a romantic drama, doesn’t really go overboard with the emotions, is something that allows its political context to come to fruition. Ignoring a few elements that just feel a bit too much like Communist propaganda, there’s a lot to learn about the different values and ways of life of both the Red and White armies, seen through no more than two people, something that I found far more interesting than if this were a typical romance.
What’s more is that the two lead performances replicate that theme excellently throughout the movie. Again, I can’t say that they’re powerful or enthralling performances that hooked me on the story, but both Izolda Izvitskaya and Oleg Strizhenov manage to balance the emotional side of the story well with the more dour and brutal side that ties in with the history and conflict of the Civil War, and that makes their unlikely relationship all the more convincing.
Another plus here is undoubtedly the visuals. The completely barren setting of the Karakum Desert is thrilling to behold (especially in colour), whilst some of the even more isolated locations that the characters find themselves in throughout are particularly striking, and have the added benefit of allowing the film as a whole to focus in on the story at hand, without getting too bogged down in anything else.
However, that’s where some of the problems come in. Although featuring interesting political and historical themes, as well as a decent romance, there’s something about this movie that felt very empty to me. It doesn’t succeed in tugging at your heartstrings (apart from one very striking scene), and it doesn’t move along at a strong enough pace to keep you engrossed in what is a fairly underwhelming, albeit original, story.
It’s a real shame to say, because there are so many excellent elements about this movie, but in the end, the fact that it’s slightly boring to watch is its biggest downfall. Yes, it’s very slow, and its barren locations occasionally add to that in the film’s weaker periods, which all contributes to a viewing experience that gets progressively less engrossing as it moves along, and that’s why I’m giving The Forty-First a 6.8 overall.