Clare's Criterion Collection

Here Is My Criterion Collection. See What I Have Bought & Read My Reviews. Follow Me As I Explore My Collection.

Ballad Of A Soldier – Review # 13

Spine # 148

Available on DVD

Special Features:

  • New digital transfer
  • Interview with director Grigori Chukhrai and stars Vladimir Ivashov and Zhanna Prokhorenko, conducted after a preview screening in New York
  • New and improved English subtitle translation
  • Optimal image quality; RSDL dual-layer edition

    New cover by William Logan and Amy Hoisington

Please note that whilst I try to not give away vital plot details/scenes/developments of the film, some reviews may contain mild spoilers.

Review

The film opens to a bleak landscape and sadly, the all too familiar story of loss during war. I have had a few days to replay this film over in my mind and when I think about our young soldier, Alyosha, a word that continually appears is loyalty.

He is loyal to his country.  Aged only 19 he is fighting for Russia during WWII, the time period for this film.  He is a hero and his reward is a commendation from the General, though he forgoes this honour.  Why you may ask, that I cannot tell.  In order to find out you must watch the film.

He shows loyalty to his Mother.  He is in a dangerous place, the Russian Front fighting the Germans yet he wants to leave, not as a deserter to the surrounding horrors, no, he wants to leave so he can go home and help his Mother, the roof is leaking and needs to be fixed.

Loyalty is not his only endearing quality.  Throughout the film he shows kindness to others, going out of his way to help even though the clock is ticking.  He even found the time for a little romance, once the over-dramatic young lady (Shura), who I would have pushed from the moving train, calmed down.  The train guard provides a few laughs and even though he lied I felt no malice towards him.  It is due to his actions that a memorable quote is made:

“It’s so pleasant when you think badly of someone, only to discover that he’s good”.

As Alyosha’s journey continues we encounter everyday civilians going about their lives.  On the surface it all seems quite normal yet there are subtle reminders that not too far away a war is raging, be it a wounded soldier or a lady selling her possessions in order to survive

Later in the film there is a scene that reminds me how destructive man can be.  The train passes by a forest of birch trees, very similar to the one seen in Ivan’s Childhood.  As a nature lover, this is a beautiful sight.  It made me think about all the senseless destruction man has done, not only to forests but to the planet as a whole.  In my mind this is an example of the woeful disregard for life shown before, during and sadly since WWII.

I immensely enjoyed the few days we spent with our young soldier.  This is a simple but highly emotive film and one I wholly recommend to you all.

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The Red Shoes – Review # 12

TRS

Spine # 44

Available on Blu-ray & DVD

Special Features:

  • New high-definition master from the award-winning 2009 digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
  • Introductory restoration demonstration with filmmaker Martin Scorsese
  • Audio commentary by film historian Ian Christie, featuring interviews with stars Marius Goring and Moira Shearer, cinematographer Jack Cardiff, composer Brian Easdale, and Scorsese
  • Profile of “The Red Shoes,” a documentary on the making of the film, featuring interviews with members of the production team
  • Video interview with director Michael Powell’s widow, Thelma Schoonmaker Powell, from the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, in which she discusses Powell, the film, and the restoration
  • Audio recording of actor Jeremy Irons reading excerpts from Powell and Pressburger’s novelization of The Red Shoes
  • Collection of rare publicity stills and behind-the-scenes photos
  • Gallery of items from Scorsese’s personal collection of The Red Shoes memorabilia
  • The “Red Shoes” Sketches, an animated film of Hein Heckroth’s painted storyboards, with the Red Shoes ballet as an alternate angle
  • Audio recording of Irons reading the original Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale “The Red Shoes”
  • Theatrical trailer
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring a new essay by critic David Ehrenstein and a description of the restoration by UCLA film archivist Robert Gitt
  • New cover by F. Ron Miller

Please note that whilst I try to not give away vital plot details/scenes/developments of the film, some reviews may contain mild spoilers.

Review

For those of you that have read my Art Blog you will know of my recently  acquired interest in Ballet.  With this in mind I purchased The Red Shoes and I can honestly say that I’ve made one of the best buys of my life.  This is an absolutely fantastic film!  An explosive mix of jealousy, love, manipulation and obsession is played out to a stunning backdrop of dance and music.

An excellent attribute of the film are memorable quotes and below is a perfect example:

“Why do you want to dance?”

“Why do you want to live?”

” I don’t know exactly, but I must”

“That’s my answer too”

That excerpt marked the first meeting between Boris Lermontov and Victoria Page and thus the story of The Red Shoes began.

Whilst the script of the film gives us many more profoundly deep quotes, as shown above, it is the Technicolour cinematography that makes this film such a visual spectacle. There are many great scenes, the crazy charge for the seats at the start reminded me of boarding an Easyjet flight!  The 17 minute Ballet scene is breathtaking and no amount of words can do it justice, it HAS to been seen.  As always, Paris and Monte Carlo look stunning and bring extra glamour to the film and also brought back happy memories of my visits to both locations.  The final performance of the Ballet is a haunting scene that offers a glimpse into the bonds created between cast and crew during a production.

As I mentioned at the start, over the past few years I have developed a love for the art of Ballet and this film gives you a very realistic look at just how much work goes into a production. To add authenticity, the Ballet company consisted of professional dancers, a very good decision in my opinion.  My legs ached just watching the rehearsals but I certainly now have more appreciation for these artists.

The Extras that come with this Criterion are equally as fantastic as the film.  As I write this review I have watched them all bar the Audio Commentary, though this is something I will certain watch in the future.  Martin Scorsese is a huge fan of this film and we learn that The Red Shoes has provided an influence in all his films.  It was his Film Foundation that restored this film into the Criterion masterpiece and we are treated to items from his personal collection of memorabilia.  The Widow of the Director, Michael Powell provides great insight, not only to the restoration but also the art of editing, a role she has provided for Scorsese since 1967.  As with the film, we are given another classic quote, this time from the great Pierre Auguste Renoir to his Son, Jean Renoir:

“You should never make a film unless it’s like having to piss, it should be that intense”

That is quite a statement to make but one that will ring true to those that see film as an art form and not as a way to make money.  Sadly today, money seems to be the driving force behind the mainstream film industry and only goes to reinforce how important it is for films like The Red Shoes to be made available.

I mentioned earlier that I love Ballet, unfortunately I do not love the ticket prices.  The Red Shoes does help to explain why the cost is high; the costumes, set design, the travel are just a few of the overheads a production generates.  Please don’t let that make you think that a trip to the Ballet is out of reach.  Matinee performances, usually at the weekend, can provide cheaper prices and even the seats at the top of the theatre offer a wonderful view, I actually prefer to watch from up above so I can see the whole stage.  Make sure to check for sight restrictions on any ticket.

If there is no theatre near to you please check your local cinema, yes cinema.  For those of you in the UK Odeon show performances from Ballet, Opera & Theatre.  In the Canada Cineplex is the place to go.  This service is also available in the US but I have no personal experience.  I am sure a quick online search of your local cinema should provide you with their schedule, look for special events etc.

I hope this review proves useful to you and I urge you, find a way to watch this marvellous film.

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