Women at war.
Two films of Vasilyev's "The Dawns Here Are Quiet."
Across the past week I’ve had the opportunity to watch the Russian film adaptations of the Boris Vasilyev 1969 novella The Dawns Here Are Quiet. It is adaptations, plural: there is a 1972 version from Stanislav Rostotsky, and a 2015 version from Renat Davletyarov. The story itself is well worth the watch, and the existence of the two films offers an opportunity for comparison.
Vasilyev, himself a veteran of the Soviet war against the Third Reich — wounded in action with the Third Guards Airborne Division in 1943, which ought to be sufficient testimony to his experience — was one of a handful of Soviet writers who emerged in the first three decades of the postwar era, having served mostly as junior officers at the front. Vasily Grossman and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn are far better known, and I am not aware of a meaningful corpus of Vasilyev’s work in English, but the latter has the distinction at least of having inspired some of the most affecting war cinema of the past half-century.
There is a lovely phrase in Russian describing the work of writers like Vasilyev: лейтенантская проза, literally “lieutenant’s prose,” signifying not just the author’s own background in the lower ranks of the combatants, but also the general focus of their literary work. These are not heroic portraits of great men, and still less the ideologically driven narratives of Soviet officialdom. They are the small, claustrophobic, and intimate experiences of the men and women who endured the single greatest cataclysm in the history of mankind: the titanic Eastern Front of the Second World War. Twice in 1944, that year of years, Churchill remarked to the House of Commons that it was the Red Army that shouldered the human burden of the war against the Third Reich: “it is the Red Army that has torn the guts out of the filthy Nazis,” he said that October, and this after both Overlord and Market Garden. The butcher’s bill at the end was calculated in the tens of millions, soldiers and civilians alike. If it has become the stuff of state-sponsored myth since, who can blame the state? Who can gainsay the unnumbered individuals who lived through it and penned their memories, whether as poetic nonfiction, as Solzhenitsyn a weary and shocked young officer in Prussian Nights — or as literary fiction, as with Vasilyev’s small band of Soviet soldiers in The Dawns Here Are Quiet?
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