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The Thief
(Vor)

Russia - 1997
Directed by Pavel Chukhraj


A story about Sanya, a little boy whose mother gave birth to him alongside a road in the days immediately following World War II, having lost her husband in the war a few months before Sanya was born.  We next join 6 year-old Sanya and his mother, Katya, on a Russian train, where she is unexpectedly swept off her feet by Tolyan, a dashingly handsome soldier.  Sanya is in awe of the masculine power of Tolyan, fearing and respecting him at the same time.  He and his mother follow Tolyan and find a room in a communal apartment together.  In order to acquire a space in the apartment, Katya and Tolyan pretend to be married, and Sanya is told to call Tolyan his father.  Tolyan is at once gentle and monstrous.  He is a tyrant at home, brutalizing and intimidating Katya, who desperately tries to protect Sanya from his rages, while still clinging to what she appears to think as her only "hope" for the future.

Meanwhile, Sanya often imagines his own father, who become visible to him at times.  When the local bullies torment him, Tolyan teaches him to attack to kill, kill for anything, ..."you have to be willing to kill for that cigarette".  It gradually becomes evident that Tolyan is not a soldier, as he appears, but a common thief, who schemes to take advantage of anyone he encounters.  When he invites all of the "comrades" who share the apartment to an evening at the circus, he uses their arranged absence to ransack the apartment, bundling up anything of value.  Katya is grief-stricken to find that her "white knight" is a criminal, yet she feels trapped and is not strong enough to flee.   She sees that he is beginning to involve her son in his schemes and yet she still follows him to the next town, where he sets up a similar scenario.

Katya finally decides that she will not live the life of a fugitive and will not continue to expose Sanya to the life of a criminal.   She and Tolyan part amiably at the side of the railroad tracks, just as the authorities close in on Tolyan.  The visage of Tolyan being carried away by the police is more than she can bear, and she loses herself in her grief, finally dying of a broken heart. 

Years later, when Tolyan is released from prison and Sanya has grown into a young man, Sanya finds him.  Tolyan pretends to have little or no recollection of Katya, a fact that incites Sanya to murder him.

The images of a soviet lifestyle during the 1950's  made this film fascinating to watch.  The communal apartment living and the attitude of the people in the days of Lenin were thoughtfully portrayed.  Misha Philupchuk, the young actor who played Sanya as a child, delivered an amazing performance.   While nominated for both Academy Awards and Golden Globe awards, The Thief won NIKA awards(1998) for Best Actor (Vladimir Mashkov, for his portrayal of Tolyan), Best Actress (Yekaterina Rednikova, for her role as Katya), Best Director, Best Musical Score, and Best Picture.  The Venice Film Festival awarded Pavel Chukhraj the Prize of the International Youth Jury, The President of the Italian Senate's Gold Medal and the UNICEF Award for The Thief.

Runtime:  92 Minutes (USA release)

 

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