White Sun of the Desert (1969)
August 21, 2009, 9:49 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Administrative note:  Most of these movies are available online.  I use Veoh instead of Youtube because you can watch them at once instead of in parts.  ALSO: UPDATED LINKS!

During the Russian Civil War, in what we now call Turkmenistan (when we even think about it at all), Workers’-Peasants’ Red Army soldier Comrade Sukhov, released from duty, proceeds to walk across the vast desert with an irresponsibly low amount of water to return to his sweet beloved wife, played by Heidi (this Heidi, not that Heidi).  Along the way, he rescues a man named Sayid who has been buried up to his neck in sand.  Sayid subsequently creeps around, saving Sukhov’s life occasionally when Sayid feels like it.  Later, brave Comrade Sukhov stumbles upon a regiment protecting the harem of a local Basmachi rebel warlord named Abdullah (played by Billy Crudup in an unfortunate chinstrap).  Sukhov, always ready to take on the People’s work, is dragooned into the thankless task of escorting the harem to safety.  Little does he know that Abdullah hasn’t forgotten about his multiple wives, and intends to murder them.  No reason is given for why Abdullah would be so hell-bent on killing his wives, although no reason is necessary — they probably talked back too much.

This is the most famous Ostern (or Eastern), the Russian variant of our Western.  It is a serious cult film in Russia, where Cosmonauts ritually watch it the night before takeoff.  Many of its great lines are frequently quoted.  While the familiar Western standards appear (Sayid is the brave Native American scout/badass, Abdullah the bad Indian, everyone meets in a town, there is a big shoot-out), this film has more in common with Revisionist Westerns like Once Upon a Time in the West or The Outlaw Josey Whales, where women and minority characters are not as stereotypically characterized.   Only this movie is funny and those movies are not.  The similarity is most obvious in the treatment of the Central Asian characters.  This is perhaps the only charming depiction of the burqa in film history, and that is being charitable.

Abdullah’s wives mistakenly believe Sukhov is their new husband, because he has a strong beard.  They spend most of the movie covered by the burqa, only displaying their beautiful Socialist Actress faces (although one seems to be 7 feet tall) to Sukhov.  Sukhov’s handling of this is high-minded and egalitarian.  At first, he patronizingly explains that they are now able to each have their own husband.  He explains that he has only one wife, and she is waiting for him back in his shithole village where, I assume, no one has anything to eat.  One of the harem considers this way of life, wondering how one woman could possibly do all the cooking, cleaning, child-rearing, and foot-rubbing necessary to maintain a household.  Sukhov looks off into the distance and considers this while suggestively slamming a massive round of ammo into a gigantic machine gun.  Sukhov daydreams of a glorious world in which he has 10 wives, and his own beloved Soviet wife is the favorite.  Each wife happily attends to her household chores.  Later they bask in the grass, surrounding Sukhov who sips tea while adorned in a crimson turban.  His wife leans into him.  She adores him, Abdullah’s wives adore him.  This situation, it seems, is really best for everyone.  Then Sukhov wakes up.  Reality sets in.  There has to be a reason, after all, for Abdullah to want to kill his wives…

Video of the Conversation and Dream Sequence begins around 5:08:


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