Thief, The

Director: Pavel Chukhrai

Nominated for an Academy Award, Pavel Chukhrai’s The Thief follows last year’s Prisoner of the Mountains and provides further evidence of a resurgence in quality Russian film-making. Chukhrai’s story is not dissimilar to that Kolya, dealing as it does with the fate of a young boy who struggles to survive in the cruel world of post-war Stalinism. The Thief is the tougher of the two films, having little time for cheap sentiment as it paints an anti-heroic picture of a society ruled by the law of the survival of the fittest.
Young war widow Katya (Etaterina Rednikova) and her 6-year old son Sanya (Misha Philipchuk) are on a train journey when they meet Tolyan (Vladimir Mashkov), an army officer with roguish good looks. The man seduces Katya without much ado, and a trio is formed. Kicked out of his mother’s bed in no uncertain terms, Sanya at first resents his parent’s lover. But gradually Tolyan becomes the father figure the boy desperately needs. It comes as a shock when mother and son realise that Tolyan is a burglar and pickpocket posing as a soldier, but Katya is too much in love to leave him. When the law finally catches up with Tolyan and the three are separated, Sanya goes in search of Tolyan, with tragic consequences.
Chukhrai provides a very convincing and compelling portrait of a whole generation of Russians, many of whom never knew their real father. The film is most effective in capturing its young hero’s conflicting feelings about his father figure, who is a tyrant but also a protector. This inner conflict if what drives The Thief to its powerful and haunting conclusion.

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