Director: Nikita Mikhalkov
Starring: Nikita Mikhalkov, Oleg Menshikov, Ingeborga Dapkunaite, Nadezhda Mikhalkova
Language: Russian, French
Duration: 135 min.
Russia in 1936, revolutionary hero Colonel Kotov is spending an idyllic summer with his young wife and six-year-old daughter Nadya and other assorted family and friends. Things change dramatically with the surprise arrival of Cousin Dimitri from Moscow, who charms the women and little Nadya with his games and pianistic bravura. But Kotov isn't fooled: this is the time of Stalin's repression, and he knows that Dimitri isn't paying a social call...
Burnt by the Sun is a film written by, directed and starring Nikita Mikhalkov. It premiered at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival sharing the Jury Grand Prix with Zhang Yimou's To Live, and later won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film at the 67th Academy Awards.
Set during the era of Stalin's Great Purge, the film spends a languid and intimate summer's day with retired Colonel Kotov, played by the director himself, who relaxes with his young wife Marusia (Ingeborga Dapkunaite) and adorable daughter Nadya (real life daughter Nadezhda Mikhalkova), until things are upended by a surprise visitor from their past.
This has all the things I generally love about films, great natural acting, a long slow setup, and a beautiful musical theme that burrows into your brain (Jerzy Petersburski's To ostatnia niedziela). The only problem was this constant aura of calculated manipulation that I felt after awhile. The humorous characters and interludes, the tender moments, and even the ominous imagery and symbolism all felt overly scripted like the director was trying too hard to press emotional buttons and drag the charade out for as long as possible before its inevitable end.
What saves this film for me and possibly why it won all those awards, is the remarkable performance by little Nadezhda Mikhalkova, I've never seen a more adorable yet natural performance from a six year old. She radiates on screen and steals every scene, and even though we know Mikhalkov is exploiting their natural chemistry to full effect, there is a touching sequence with the two of them drifting on a lake in a boat that is simply a perfect cinematic moment.
Made as a tribute 'to all who were burnt by the sun of the Revolution', this film does deliver that message, but not without a few missteps along the way. Interestingly, the director has recently made a six-hour-long two-part sequel to this film, the second of which was controversially submitted to the 2012 Oscars race, despite massive critical and box-office failure in Russia.
— Bonjour Tristesse