Directed By: Alexander Zolotukhin

CAST: Vladimir Korolev, Mikhail Buturlov, Artem Leshik, Danil Tyabin, Sergey Goncharenko, Filipp Dyachkov

Run time:72 minutes

SYNOPSIS: In this military drama, a simple country boy, Alyosha, volunteers for the front of the First World War. After a gas attack in his first battle, he loses his sight, but does not return home. Assigned to an anti-aircraft battery, he becomes a ‘hearer’ – a watchman who must warn others about the approach of enemy aircraft planes by listening to the air through huge metal funnels.

In parallel, a storyline is developed around the rehearsals of the Tavrichesky Orchestra in modern Saint Petersburg, which is preparing to perform Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 3 and Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic dances.


This is the feature film debut of Belarus film-maker, Alexander Zolotukhin who was a student of Alexander Nikolayevich Sokurov, famous for Russian Ark (2002) which was filmed in a single unedited shot, and Faust, which won the  Golden Lion for best picture at the 2011 Venice Film Festival.

For A Russian Youth, Zolotukhin has boldly introduced an experimental structure, whereby the harrowing and visually stunning main narrative of this new take on the war genre, is intercut with a parallel story of the modern-day rehearsals of Saint Petersburg’s Tavrishesky Orchestra performing the Rachmaninoff pieces for the film score.

Set on the Eastern Front during the carnage of World War I, we join a unit of the Russian Army that is fighting the Imperial German Army. In its midst is Aleksey (Vladimir Korolev) a freckled-faced, naive teenager with youthful dreams of fame, fortune and medals. But in the first round of battle, when German mustard gas washes over them, the makeshift gas mask – a bit of gauze over the mouth and goggles over the eyes – does nothing to protect him and he loses his sight.

He is left to serve in the anti-aircraft unit as a ‘hearer’ – someone who must listen carefully through huge metal funnels and raise the alarm if enemy airplanes approach.  

There is great cruelty shown towards Alex and he is beaten for spilling food; only one fellow soldier, Nazarka (Mikhail Buturlov) looks out for him.

The atmospheric cinematography of Ayrat Yamilov, with its faded images and grainy sepia tinted footage, is superbly evocative of this tragic period.

Zolotukhin describes the narrative of his film as being constructed like a mosaic, which consists of a gallery of characters with whom the protagonist interacts. Many non-professional actors were used in the film, found on the streets, in factories, and among the cadets of military schools, all to provide the film with an authentic look.

The horror of the First World War was merely the first tragedy of many for the Russian people – revolution, civil war, famine, political repression and finally the Second World War. And all this impacted on one generation. How did they find the courage and patience to survive all the upheavals of the first half of the 20th century? What was their character like? What were they thinking and feeling? In A Russian Youth Zolotukhin explores these questions.

The film is available to stream on Mubi from 30 April.

Images courtesy of Lenfilm Studios