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Movie Reviews

The Thief  

The Thief is a Russian film from a couple of years ago. The title has a few shades of meaning, as "the thief" is not merely a swindler of material items, but also of happiness, stability and trust.

The movie takes place sometime after World War II. A mother, Katya, and her young son, Sanya, travel about, with seemingly no home or any other place to go or people to stay with. Katya's husband and Sanya's father was killed in action before Sanya was born. One day, Toljan, a solider, enters the train they are taking and almost deliberately moves into the lives of these two people. In almost no time, they masquerade as husband and wife with child, and they move into a cheap boarding house. Later on, however, he uproots everybody without notice or delay. It is at this point where we learn the secret; he is a fraud. He is not really a solider, and has stolen the identity for an unknown reason; he also steals things from the place in which he is just about ready to leave. He doesn't seem to have to do this; he must just lack responsibility. In any case, his criminal activity affects Katya and Sanya, as they, too, are not able to settle in any one place for long, and he expects them to remain with him.

 

'The thief' is quite a nasty and cunning character. He represents machismo to the nth degree. He is a brute, and is willing to teach Sanya lessons in brutish behaviour, especially in a chilling moment when the kid sees him push his mother around, and instinctively threatens him with a knife, only to have the jerk actually dare him to use it. Actually, I don't know if "dare" is the right word; I think he wants comforting evidence that Sanya is a chip off the old block at least in attitude. He is also a bit of a womanizer as well, which comes as no surprise. Just as he easily seduces the mother, he later eases his way into another woman's affections, and, in one shot, just to show that he is such a charming stud, he gives all the women in the building chocolate.

Sanya is very confused. He needs a father figure, and this man is the closest thing he's got. But the kid knows two things, he is not his real dad, and this fake dad is a complete idiot. Often the kid acts as if he hates the guy, but there are a number of scenes where, just like many little boys, he is fascinated by some of the stuff he is told by him. A good example is when Toljan says that he is, in fact, one of Stalin's sons (there is a nice shot of the kid regarding a propagandist painting of Stalin and some children after being told this fact), and that it is their little secret. But there are moments in which Sanya dreams of his father, who seems to suggest that he ought to avenge his father somehow, and we all know, then that something will happen between Sanya and Toljan.

Katya is a mystery to me, because I really don't know what she sees in him. For much of the film, it seems to be all about sex. Later on, we think that she will leave, and she is certainly no longer enamoured of him, yet she never quite gets separated from him, except near the climax, where separation may very well occur, but not by choice.

I will give this movie three stars, since much of the material involving Sanya and Toljan is very interesting. To be sure, the story is very melodramatic, and sometimes it goes a little too far over the top. The final sequence is most definitely the worst, as, years later, he encounters Toljan. His reactions to this (a shadow of a earlier scene) gets a bad laugh from me, and his subsequent actions are all too typical. The beginning of the film is equally over the top. I do not know how often a man and a woman screwing each other against the wall after only meeting hours earlier, unless they were drunk and met at a bar. I doubt that it happens too often on the train, but then what do I know about life?

But the most glaring flaw, in my view, is the fact that the director deliberately butchered his own ending. I just found out from the Internet Movie Database that the ending, in the original Russian version, is substantially different, and about 15 minutes longer. From what I read, the ending seems to be both more melodramatic and more ironic, and I think that it is unfair for the director to feel that somehow we non-Russians wouldn't understand. I hope that there is a Directors' Cut, just so we will have returned to us the spoils of this cinematic theft.

David Macdonald

David Macdonald's Movie Reviews

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