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A desert full of wait

Have you ever seen days when one errand after another is hurled your way, delaying a well-planned meeting — be it a shopping date, a dinner date, anything you have been looking forward to all week? There are days such as these, and there are fates, similar to these that shift the finish line further and further away. But what we do in between is what matters.

The White Sun Of The Desert (1970) is a film set around the end of the Russian Civil War. The protagonist Sukhov, a soldier from the Red Army, yearns to return to his wife, Katerina Matveyevna. When the war ends, he sets off across the desert, hoping to finally end the parting of many years. The movie rolls with doe-eyed Katerina, in a Red-riding-hood scarf, walking across meadows, sometimes carrying barrels of water on her shoulders and sometimes poignantly watching and waiting.


A still from the film The White Sun of the Desert

Sukhov is a brave soldier, and he walks across the desert, throwing his knife into the sands to check the time. With his white cap and red star, golden-brown beard and a sense of humour, Sukhov is easy to fall for. He spends time writing letters — in his mind — to Katerina, expressing his love, asking for forgiveness for the delay.

On his way, he rescues Sayid, a man buried in the desert sands, with just his head jutting out towards the open sky. He moves on, only to be dumped with the responsibility of taking the 11 wives of a guerrilla fighter, Abdulla, who is wanted by the Red Army. Petrukha, a young soldier with the Army, accompanies Sukhov on this mission, along with Sayid.

And, thus, Sukhov takes a U-turn, causing another delay in his meeting with his wife. Sukhov intends to wrap up the job in three days. They reach a village near the Caspian Sea and take refuge in a city museum, awaiting Abdulla’s attack.

Sukhov’s character is sketched beautifully. Adbulla’s harem considers him their master now, and thus husband, but he explains to them the concept of one wife and, the freedom of women. His one-woman belief is lovable and Anatoli Kuznetsov has uplifted the character with his flawless timing.

What unfolds in the climax is a regular Bollywood ending with one brave man against an army of bad men. But, does fate second Sukhov’s reunion with his wife? The plot challenges and tests each character.

There’s often a feeling of déjà vu — the yearning of an ex-custom officer’s wife who throws a fuss over her husband wanting to help Sukhov in his fight, Petroska’s urge to see the face of Gyulchatai (the youngest in the harem) and Sukhov’s readiness to step in as the Good Samaritan despite his eagerness to rush to his beloved. All characters deliver. Their silence expresses more than any dialogue could. ¬†Directed by Vladimir Motyl, the film is watched by Russian space cosmonauts before setting out on missions as a tradition till date.

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