Destiny of a Man

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Destiny of a Man
Directed by Sergei Bondarchuk
Produced by Goskino
Written by Jury Lukin
Feodor Shakmagonov (screenplay)
Mikhail Sholokhov (novel)
Starring Sergei Bondarchuk
Zynaida Kiriyenko
Pavel Volkov
Pavlik Boriskin
Music by Veniamin Basner
Cinematography Sergey Veronkov
Distributed by Mosfilm
Release dates
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  • August 1959 (1959-08)
Running time
103 minutes
Country Soviet Union
Language Russian

Destiny of a Man (Russian: Судьба человека, translit.  Sudba Cheloveka) is a 1959 Soviet film adaptation of the novel by Mikhail Sholokhov, and also the directorial debut of Sergei Bondarchuk. In the year of its release it won the Grand Prize at the 1st Moscow International Film Festival;[1] Bondarchuk would win again for the first part of his colossal adaption of Tolstoy's War and Peace, titled Andrei Bolkonsky, six years later.


The film begins in the Soviet Union in spring of 1946, as truck driver Andrei Sokolov (Bondarchuk) and his young son travel along a road in the country and run into a man Sokolov recognizes as a fellow military driver. Sokolov begins to tell the story of his experiences upon returning from the Russian Civil War and the famine of 1922. A flashback reveals Andrei building a house in Kuban, where he meets and falls in love with his future wife Irina. Soon the pair are married and have a son, Anatoly (nicknamed Tolyushka), and two daughters. Andrei leads a happy family life for 17 years, until the Second World War.

As the war begins, Andrei is enlisted as a Red Army truck driver, leaving his family behind. He is ordered to drive on a road under bombardment to carry vital supplies to the army on the other side. Stukas detect and divebomb Andrei's convoy; while the other trucks stop and the personnel run for cover Andrei continues driving through the gunfire, until a nearby explosion upturns his truck and knocks Andrei unconscious. When he comes to, Andrei finds himself at the mercy of two German officers, who send him - along with many other Russian soldiers - to an abandoned church, where a Russian doctor fixes his dislocated shoulder.

The next morning all soldiers suspected of being either communists, commissars, officers, or Jews are rounded up and executed, including the doctor who had helped Andrei, and the remainder are sent to a concentration camp. Andrei, desperately lonely, dreams of his family calling out to him and longing for his return. Andrei, along with all the other prisoners, is set to work as a forced labourer; an escape attempt ends with his recapture after four days and transfer to a concentration camp in Germany. Andrei is subsequently relocated between many German camps, including B-14 (near Küstrin) where each prisoner is required to shift four cubic metres of rubble every day. One night Andrei is called into the camp leader's office and sentenced to execution by shooting for having complained in the barracks. Before he takes Andrei out into the yard shoot him (saying he will do him the honor of shooting him personally), the commander gives him one final glass of vodka - to salute the German victory at Stalingrad. Andrei refuses the offer, but agrees to toast the imminent end of his suffering; after downing the large glass, the commander offers him a bite to eat, but Andrei says he never eats after only one glass. The officer pours him another, which he downs equally quickly, again refusing food, claiming he never drinks after only two glasses. The German officers, awed by his capacity, applaud him, and the commander gives him a third, which he manages to drink, now having put away a whole bottle, to everyone's amazement. The commander, who speaks perfect Russian, tells him he is a brave soldier, spares his life, and gives him a loaf of bread and some butter or cheese; he manages to stagger back to the barracks, says "Everyone gets an equal share," and collapses. We see the prisoners carefully dividing up the precious food.

The next morning a fellow inmate informs Andrei that the German forces in Stalingrad have been defeated. The mood in the camp shifts, as the Nazi forces retreat in Russia and the camp guards begin to treat their inmates with less contempt. Andrei is given a new job, chauffeuring the German major who oversees local roads and defenses. One day, when the major falls asleep in the car, Andrei decides to try another escape, driving straight through a defense minefield in a desperate bid for freedom. The drive ends when Andrei crashes into a tree and is flung from the car. He awakens surrounded by Red Army soldiers, explains that he is as Russian as they despite wearing a German uniform, and is overcome with tears of joy. Russian officers inform him that the major's briefcase contained top-secret information useful to the Soviets, and that he is to be nominated for a hero's medal and sent home from the hospital for a month's leave. On his return, though, Andrei finds that his home and most of Voronezh has been destroyed. Andrei's flashback ends as he recounts the awful memory of the shattered remains of his beloved home.

The man sitting next to Andrei in the frame story asks him "And then what happened?" Another flashback commences: we see Andrei at the house of a local old resident, who tells how a bombardment in June 1942 killed his wife and daughters, after which his son volunteered for the front. Sokolov's grief seems almost unbearable. He returns to the front and fights on until the end of the war, at one point receiving a letter from his son and being overjoyed at the good news of his survival. As soon as the war is over, however, his joy is dashed when his commander calls him in and tells him of his son's death. Andrei attends his burial amid the parades and celebrations of the war's end.

With the war over, Andrei resumes truck driving. At a rest stop in Uryupinsk he meets a poor starving child, whom he offers ride in his truck. On the road the two talk and Andrei asks the boy who his father is. The boy says that his father was killed at the front, his mother died as well, he has no one left and does not know where he is from. Andrei tells the boy that he is his father; the boy is overwhelmed and overjoyed, and the pair return to start a new life, though Andrei is still haunted by dreams of his former loved ones.

The story then returns to the opening scene in the spring after the war. Andrei finishes his story, adding that he fears he may die in his sleep and have no chance to guide his young son. The boy runs up and says "Let's go, papa!" and Andrei departs with his son.



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