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Twenty Days Without War

(Dvadstat dnei bez voiny)
USSR 1976. Director: Alexei Gherman
Cast: Yuri Nikulin, Ludmila Gurchenko, Angelina Stepanova, Nikolai Grinko, Ekaterina Vasileva

Alexei Gherman’s first two solo features, 1971’s Trial on the Road and 1976’s Twenty Days Without War, both remarkable, unorthodox, and decidedly anti-heroic war films, met with official disapproval and censorship. The former was still banned (and would remain so for another decade) when Gherman embarked on the latter. A subtle, intimate, and affecting drama, Twenty Days Without War was denounced as “the shame of Lenfim” (it was made for Lenfilm Studios) and, for a time, itself suppressed — because “the people it depicts could only have lost the war.” In 1943, after the Battle of Stalingrad, Lopatin, a war correspondent and novelist, travels home to Tashkent, Uzbekistan, for twenty days leave. There, he assists in the making of a film based on his writings, and discovers that the illusions people harbour about war are far removed from the reality he has tried to write about. In a bold stroke of casting, Yuri Nikulin, a famous comic actor and circus clown, plays the lead. Based on a story by Konstantin Siminov, a prominent journalist and war poet who had opposed the banning of Trial on the Road, the film is shot with striking assurance by Valery Fedosov, Gherman’s regular cinematographer. B&W, 35mm, in Russian with English subtitles. 101 mins.