The White Sun of the Desert

The White Sun of the Desert (Белое солнце пустыни) is a true classic of Soviet cinematography. It is also a movie I recently watched for the first time and immediately decided it would make for an interesting post.

The movie, filmed in 1970, takes place in a desert somewhere near the Caspian Sea… a beautiful sky blue horizon with sand all over. It is the ending of the Russian Civil War and the Red Army soldier Fyodor Sukhov has been fighting in that region for two years. To understand this movie, first it’s necessary to understand the historical context of the time period. Thing is that, after the Revolution of 1917 the Soviets had to re-conquer all those lands that had belonged to the Russian Empire. However, the task wasn’t easy. In central Asia, where the movie is set, Red Army troops continued to face resistance into 1923, where armed bands of Islamic guerrillas, known as the Basmachi, had formed to fight the Bolshevik invasion.

“And then you have the desert and the Caspian landscape. It surrounds everything with a mystical quality all its own, like everything happens in some corner of the world no one will ever know about and one day the sand will cover everything or the last man will just go out wandering in the desert and leave the small village behind forever…” – Chaos Rampant

Just as Sukhov is ready to return home to his dear wife, he faces a new adventure: a desert fight between a Red Army cavalry unit and the Basmachi. Afterwards, the Red Army cavalry unit commander persuades Sukhov to stay and help to protect the harem of the guerrilla leader Abdullah, the one he decided to leave behind because the women only delayed him as he was trying to flee. Leaving Sukhov with a young soldier to assist him with the task, the commander and his cavalry unit set out to pursue Abdullah.

Sukhov’s task proves to be more difficult than he imagines. He suddenly finds himself in charge of the nine wives of Abdullah. Throughout the rest of the movie he has to help protect them, while they believe themselves to be his. However, his wife seems to be the thing that keeps him going as he writes to her every day.

Sukhov leads the women to a decaying village near the Caspian shore. They settle in a large building with a courtyard, which has been converted into a museum. But unfortunately, looking for a seaway across the border, Abdullah and his gang come to the same town… and the action unravels.

This could be considered a small trailer (click here to watch on YouTube). “Your Honor, Lady Luck” is the theme song of the movie and can be heard in the video. This song has become really popular and its fame has only grown as the years passed. Altogether, the movie combines several genres… action, drama, comedy – all mixed in a perfect proportion. It’s an absurd adventure with themes of nostalgia, loss, and regret.

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12 thoughts on “The White Sun of the Desert

  1. Zdrasvutya! I happened to find your blog through a long series of links… I love the internet for exactly this reason! You left a comment last August on Life In Russia, where KenThinksAloud was guest posting recently. How reading the story of a Brit repatriating to the UK from Bangladesh landed me on your blog is a mystery. But what is even more interesting is finding your post on “White Sun of the Desert”.

    I spent 10 years living and working in Baku, Azerbaijan starting in 1995. I happened to have the honor of being invited to a screening of another MOSTFilm “Burnt by the Sun” with Rustam Ibragimbekov himself in the government building theater. Surreal… It had won a Palm D’Or at Cannes and was to go on to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film that year. After seeing Burnt, we also saw “White Sun of The Desert,” making for a very full evening of Russian/Azeri cinema/history. My next trip to Moscow happened to take me right by the MOSTFilm complex- it was amazing.

    Even though I am American, I am fascinated by the history of the Russian Empire and the former Soviet Union. My writing is about my friendships, experiences and the Life Lessons I learned from living there and traveling for 10 years. I look forward to sharing and comparing notes with you.

    • Hello! Ahhh I feel so bad for not replying earlier, I’m so sorry – I kind of abandoned my blog. Thank you for such a wonderful comment. It makes me really happy knowing that there’s actually people that can relate to my posts. And it makes me even happier to know that there are people fascinated by the history of my country. I imagine you have a lot of stories to tell after living so many years in Baku; unfortunately I’ve never been there, but I really want to go one day.
      I just followed your blog Jonelle, and I will try making an effort and posting something new on mine haha, cheers!

      • Welcome, and thank you for following! I know it’s so hard to keep up with all the comments and follows.

        You’re in a key position to write, being Russian by birth, and having so many newsworthy items to talk about- and I know there are many who are curious to understand more of the Russian thought process as well.

        I hope you do continue to share, either through comments here or in new posts of your own. The history is fascinating (your 5 churches post) and the culture is amazing (The Russian Banya post).

        Thanks for letting me know you’re here- I’m looking forward to hearing your perspective on what I think I learned from my 10 years in the former Soviet Union.

  2. I wondered where that phrase came from; an acquaintance from England who is an engineer in the oil business keeps a blog called White Sun of the Desert. I did not know it was a film. He has a somewhat low opinion of Russia, so we often disagree, but he has a good sense of humour so we are not really enemies although his blog attracts some commenters who appear to hate Russia.

    Your English is excellent, Inna, very impressive. Do you live in Moscow full-time? Where did you learn such familiarity with the language? How do you practice? There cannot be too many people you know who speak it as well as you do. I know of only one – she calls herself Alterismus, but her name is Marina Smolnikova. I used to have a link to her blog, which was called Shanghai Blueprints at the time (she was living in Shanghai, and perhaps still is), but she took the blog private so I removed the link. She worked for a design company in Shanghai, but now seems to be into photography.

    http://instagram.com/alterismus#

    Anyway, nice to meet you, and I hope to see you around!

    • Hello, glad you stopped by my blog!

      I was born in Moscow, but I moved abroad with my parents when I was a kid (where I currently live). The secret to my fluency in English is having graduated from an International School! I practice it by reading, writing, watching movies, etc etc. :)

      Nice to meet you too, Mark – I’ll be seeing you around the blogosphere!

  3. I am a student of cinema in general, and french cinema in particular. Its rather unfortunate that I am yet to watch any Russian flick till date. Would you be kind enough to suggest some which can be easily available online ?

      • Queued in download!
        You should post about how one could learn Russian langauge. To me it seems really difficult. Grammar as well as script. Some sites you might suggest as well, for reference…

        • So, have you watched the movie? I am eager to hear if you liked it! And if I ever have spare time (so busy with college lately), I’ll make sure to post something that might help learning Russian for many :)

          • Yes, I did. That week itself :) It was amazing! You can write a post on your favourite movies, and that might help people like me who get to cultures by their movies… Thank you so much for pitching the movie for me :)

            College gets busy. I understand! And in a way, its good that it does :) So much to learn and experience there after all. Which education stream are you into, if you don’t mind me asking?

            Russian will come in handy when I am there for the FIFA world cup :) So… please do that :) :)

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