One of the most important examples of the post-1956 thaw-period in Soviet cinema, the film is in three parts. The first is the swooning romance of Sasha and pilot Aleksei, who scrupulously determines that Sasha has graduated school before succumbing to her aggressive pursuit of him. Chukhrai establishes a strenuous camera style, consisting of swooping movement punctuated by tight closeups, which he carries over to the second part, the couple’s wartime separation. (The couple by fiat consider themselves married—a nice anti-bureaucratic touch.) One passage, where Sasha hopes to catch a glimpse of her father in a troop train passing through, is visually hysterical due to this “style.” Word arrives that Aleksei’s plane has been shot down; the nation proclaims him a dead hero. Sasha bears Aleksei’s son and still hopes her beloved will return. The war ends, and he does. Part Three is narratively elliptical and, visually, mostly subdued—a different style; a different film, given the narrative through-line. Stripped of his “posthumous” medal, as well as his Communist Party membership, Aleksei turns to drink; his crime is that he survived, from which cowardice or even collaboration with the enemy can be deduced. (Apparently Aleksei was unconscious when he was caught and imprisoned by Germans.) Aleksei keeps petitioning for Party reinstatement, but after confronting a statue of Stalin even he loses confidence in his cause! Stalin dies, and everything is set right. Aleksei looks on with pride as the son who disdained him lands a plane from the now clear sky!The film was produced during the short period in the Khrushchev administration when criticism of the abuse of power under Stalin's leadership was accepted; within three years, Brezhnev had risen to power and this sort of commentary would once again be forbidden.Действие происходит в СССР в 1950-е годы.Лётчик Алексей Астахов воевал и попал в плен, потом бежал. В мирное время Алексей столкнулся с недоверием и подозрительностью - как военнослужащий, побывавший в плену и тем самым "запятнавший моральный облик советского летчика". Алексей страдает, не может найти работу по профессии и место в жизни. Его спасает любовь Саши Львовой, которую она пронесла через войну и все трудности послевоенного времени. После смерти Сталина Астахова вызывают в Минобороны, где возвращают звезду Героя Советского Союза. Алексей возвращается в авиаотряд и испытывает самолеты.
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