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White Sun of the Desert

Vladimir Motyl
Beloye solntse pustyni
USSR 1969 / 85’
USSR: Central Asian Films

As the story of a Red Army soldier who rescues women from a harem, White Sun of the Desert was to be the Soviet answer to the popular Western. Yet, while clearly drawing on Western cinematic tropes, the film undoubtedly spoke to Soviet audiences regarding issues of nation and empire, since it promulgates nationalist ideals of a Russian-dominated Central Asia. Since the film’s release, however, screenwriter Rustam Ibragimbekov has vehemently denied such intentions. Indeed, director Vladimir Motyl’s visual construction of the film shows he actually emphasizes incompatibility of Soviet and Central Asian cultures and the failure of the Soviet project in the East. This was an interesting cinematic stand to take at a time when the idea of the ‘brotherhood of nations’ was still very much alive in Soviet rhetoric. Ultimately, the suggested theme seems that Russia’s presence in Central Asia not only endangers Russian purity, but also destroys an engaging, exotic, traditional Eastern culture. This cult film from Russia’s Era of Stagnation was another smash hit in the Soviet Union and is still popular today, with its typical 1960s feel.

Emily Hillhouse / Rotterdam IFF

Vladimir Motyl

Born in 1927, died in 2010. The son of a Polish immigrant, who was arrested in 1930 and deported to Solovki. Meanwhile, Vladimir and his mother were deported to the Northern Urals. There, Vladimir became fascinated with theatre and cinema, and later graduated from the Sverdlovsk Theatrical Institute. For about 10 years, he worked in various theatres in the Urals and Siberia and eventually became chief director of Sverdlovsk Young Spctator's Theatre. He decided to start afresh in cinema, despite having no technical qualifications. He eventually directed his first film, Children of Palmirs (1963), which met with public success and awards. He was invited to direct a film that became one of the Soviet Union’s most popular cult films, White Sun of the Desert (1969), in which themes of exile and banishment play major roles.

Selected filmography

1963 Deti Pamira / Children of Palmirs

1967 Żenia, Żenieczka i Katiusza / Zhenya, Zhenechka i ‘Katyusha’ / Eugene, Little Eugene and Katyusha

1969 Białe słońce pustyni / Beloye solntse pustyni / White Sun of the Desert

1975 Gwiazda zwodniczego szczęścia / Zvezda plenitelnogo schastya / The Captivating Star of Happiness

1991 Rasstanemsya, poka khoroshiye / Let’s Part while We’re Alright

1996 Niosą mnie konie / Nesut menya koni / Gone with the Horses

Cast & Crew

director Vladimir Motyl
screenplay Valentin Yezhov, Rustam Ibragimbekov, Mark Zakharov
cinematography Eduard Rozovsky
music Isaak Schwarz
cast Anatoli Kuznetsov, Spartak Mishulin, Pavel Luspekayev, Kakhi Kavsadze
production Lenfilm Studio, Mosfilm
sales Mosfilm
source of print Filmoteka Narodowa
language Russian
colouration colour