Alexander Zolotukhin’s ‘A Russian Youth’, set during WWI and now on mubi, is a perfect contrast to Sam Mendes’ ‘1917’

Posted on May 21, 2020


The most fascinating aspect of this “war movie” is the parallel narrative set in the present day, where a conductor is rehearsing with his orchestra.

After a century of cinema, when nearly every genre has been twisted in every possible direction, it’s inevitable that filmmakers seek refuge in experiments. If the “World War I movie” is a genre (okay, a sub-genre of the “war movie”, which is a sub-genre of the “action/adventure”), then Sam Mendes said, “Why not try and make 1917 look like the whole thing is one seamless shot!” Alexander Zolotukhin’s “gimmick”, if you will, is even more audacious, far more formal.

In A Russian Youth, he tells the story of… a Russian youth named Aleksey, who joins the army because he wants to “shoot some Germans”. He looks at a well-decorated officer’s medals and asks, “How many Germans should I kill to get one of those?” The next instant, a flare goes off in a distance and the ball of fire arcs towards the group of soldiers Aleksey is with. The youth — he’s a boy, really, a scrawny twig of a boy — is terrified. He dives into the bushes, while the more experienced men laugh.

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