Ballad of a Soldier (1959)

Ballad of a Soldier (1959)

“Instead of my decoration, could I go home to see my mother?”

During World War II, a 19-year-old private (Volodya Ivashov) is given unprecedented leave to visit his mother (Antonina Maksimova) for two days, Along the way he helps a wounded soldier (Yevgeni Urbansky) return to his wife, and falls for a beautiful young woman (Zhanna Prokhorenko) stowing away on a train.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • First Love
  • Road Trips
  • Russian Films
  • Soldiers
  • World War II

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this Soviet-era film — made with “sensitive and warm” direction by Ukrainian Grigori Chukhrai — remains “one of our most powerful anti-war films, one that effectively conveys the suffering of the men and (especially) women who are separated when there is a call to arms.” (Sadly, this remains as true and current as ever in the very region of the world where this movie takes place.) He notes that “the storyline is simple” but by opening the film with narration informing us that Ivashov “was killed in battle during WWII” we view the events that occur through a different perspective.

Peary asserts that “critic Dwight MacDonald correctly criticized this film (in 1960) for making all Russian people and soldiers so lovable” — well, except for that fellow on the train who blackmails Ivashov out of a can of meat:

… but he believes that “the anti-war message is sincerely delivered, and the emphasis on the suffering of those whose husbands and sons are in combat seems correct.” Peary further points out that Chukhrai’s “depiction of women is admirable,” and that he “lovingly films Russia’s landscape and the lovely faces of his actors and actresses.”

I’m in overall agreement with Peary’s review of this simple but touching film, one which humanizes the enemy (Russians) and touches upon the universality of our needs and desires (family, love, connection). Along with The Cranes Are Flying (1957), it provides compelling evidence of a short-lived period of Soviet cinema when creative constraints were temporarily lifted, and remains well worth a look.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Atmospheric cinematography

  • Numerous memorable moments

Must See?
Yes, as a classic of post-war Soviet cinema.


  • Foreign Gem
  • Historically Relevant


One thought on “Ballad of a Soldier (1959)

  1. First viewing. A once-must, as a classic of Russian cinema – and for Ivashov’s performance in his debut film.

    If, for some reason, ‘Ballad…’ doesn’t feel as powerful as, for example, ‘The Cranes Are Flying’, that may have something to do with its pacing – which feels more languid (and, though it’s 10 minutes+ shorter than ‘Cranes…’, it feels longer). Nevertheless, ‘Ballad…’ has it own impact, in its episodic way.

    The performances are generally fine and naturalistic but I was taken with Ivashov in particular. It’s not an overly verbal role but the actor affords it considerable subtlety and physicality.

    The film’s last 10 minutes or so are especially memorable.

Leave a Reply