Eye For Film >> Movies >> Burnt By The Sun 2: Exodus And Citadel (2011) Film Review
Nearly 20 years after veteran Russian director Nikita Mikhalkov's Burnt By The Sun claimed the Grand Prix at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival, its five-hour, two-part sequel gets a UK DVD release courtesy of Arrow Films.
The prize-winning movie's narrative, set during Russia's Great Purge in the late Thirties, centred on the fluctuating fortunes of Red Army General Segei Kotov (Nikita Mikhalkov), and it is to this character that the director, somewhat confusingly and controversially, returns in his follow up. Divided into two films – Exodus and Citadel – Burnt by the Sun 2 plays fast and loose with both actual history and its own fictionally established facts in such a way that those familiar with Mikhalkov's original may struggle to fully embrace the director's most ambitious work to date.
Arrested, beaten to a pulp and executed (according to onscreen titles) at the end of the first movie, Mikhalkov's sprawling sequel literally resurrects Kotov and his daughter Nadia (Nadezhda Mikhalkova), another character assumed dead. Picking up the quasi-mythical story of its central protagonist during Russia's enforced entry into the Second World War, Burnt by the Sun 2 revolves around the Nazi invasion of the country and Kotov and Nadia's experiences of the war.
This somewhat preposterous act of retroactive continuity (which undoubtedly cheapens the impact of the climax of the excellent original), isn't helped by the returning characters' visibly being nearly 20 years older. In Nadia's case, the continuity aspect is further thrown out of whack by the fact that where she is 11 years old in the first movie, she is now a fully grown woman even though events in the sequel take place immediately afterwards. In the movie's defence, the 'legend' that is General Kotov – given the unreliable nature of Mikhalkov's fictional world and the relating of it – may partly excuse the problematic continuity trashing, as legends and myths are by nature a series of Chinese whispers passed down through the generations. Also, any tampering with established history is certainly no worse than that seen in countless Hollywood productions through the decades. We are, after all, dealing with fictional representations of real eras, not in documentary fact.
With a production budget of $55 million, the biggest in Russian film history, Burnt By The Sun 2 is an oddity both onscreen and off. Grand by design, featuring expertly constructed, graphic sequences of war and pointedly critical of Stalin, the movie catastrophically flopped in its motherland, being panned by many homegrown and Western critics alike. It did, however, receive a standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival, further adding to the divisive, out-of-sync feel to the production as a whole.
Following Kotov's path from betrayal to vindication – via a stint in a prison unit to once again commanding a battalion – the film is, despite the off-putting retcon enacted by Mikhalkov, certainly not the disaster its critical and box office reception suggests. Rich in symbolism and metaphor, blending stark verisimilitude with absurdist humour, magic realism with action-movie conventions, Mikhalkov's flawed exercise – an Inglorious Comrades if you will – may ultimately fail to live up to its ambitions, but it's bold and occasionally visually startling in attempting to meet them.Reviewed on: 11 Jul 2013