White Sun of the Desert (1970)

Genre: Russian "Eastern"

Set in the desert beside the Caspain Sea during the Russian Civil War, a lone Red Army soldier called Fyodor Sukhov (Anatoli Kuznetsov) walks through the desert comforted by the image of his beautiful wife back home amongst the fields in Russia who he is soon going to join after many years away. Suddenly amongst the desolate sand dunes he finds a man buried up to his head in the sand. His name is Sayid (Spartak Mishulin) and he had been buried there by a group of bandits led by Abdulla (Kakhi Kavsadze).
Fyodor digs Sayid out of the sand leaving Sayid indebted to him, and the two proceed on together until they come to a village. In the village Fyodor is entrusted by some fellow Red Soldier “comrades” to take care of nine veiled girls who were part of Abdulla’s harem. Because his harem had slowed his escape from the authorities, Abdulla had killed some of them, but these nine were luckily spared. Now under the care of Fyodor they are marched through the desert to a customs post beside the sea.
Fyodor and Sayid are joined by a young na├»ve soldier called Petrukha (Nikolai Godovikov) who falls for the youngest member of the harem and continually pleads for her hand in marriage and to lift her veil, but it's all in vein. The girls only show their faces to Fyodor, believing he is there new owner, but Fyodor’s mind is only on his wife back home.
It isn’t long before Abdulla returns with his bandits and wants his harem back. The three friends are able to temporarily repel the bandits, but knowing the bandits will return, they need to ask for the help of the drunken customs officer.
With a ship moored off the coast primed to explode and plenty of oil stored by the seashore the small group of comrades and the harem under their care await the return of Abdulla and his band of cutthroats… all the while Fyodor continues to dream of returning home to his wife.
This is such a good film and works on many levels with some absolutely stunning imagery. Based on the popular American “Westerns”, the Russian produced their own hybrid called “Easterns” or “Osterns” as they are known in Russia. This is very much like a spaghetti western with Fyodor being the Clint Eastwood character. The Mexican bandits have been replaced with what looks like members of the Taliban. Parts of this film reminded me of the later 1971 spaghetti western Blindman where the blind lead character has to transport a “cargo” of fifty mail-order brides to their miner husbands deep in the Wild West.
The film is punctuated throughout with letters from Fyodor to his wife, who although beautiful, I’m sure encapsulates want is believed to be the perfect wife of the old Soviet Russia - strong and child-baring, blonde with blue eyes in traditional dress out in the fields with her fellow workers.
 All the cast in this are great, as well as the minor roles, too, with a real attention paid to detail and nuances. This film is hugely culturally significant for Russians and most of the characters have since become heroes of numerous jokes in Russia and have now become part of the national folklore. In Russia, almost every line in this film is a celebrated catch-phrase and especially well-known is the line said by Fyodor to the young Petrukha:

"The East is a delicate matter"

Since the ill-fated Russian Afghan campaign in the early 80's, this line has always stayed on the national political agenda.

Like everything else in this film, the music is excellent with a typical Russian flare and will stay in the mind with the films imagery long after the film has finished. The theme song Vashe Blagorodiye, Gospozha Udacha (You Honor, Lady Luck) became an instant hit and its fame has only grown as time has passed.

This film is exciting, brutal, humorous and captivating and should be on anyone’s recommended film list.

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