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Burnt by the Sun

Burnt by the Sun
File:Burnt by the Sun Poster.jpg
movie poster
Directed by Nikita Mikhalkov
Produced by Nikita Mikhalkov
Michel Seydoux
Written by Rustam Ibragimbekov
Nikita Mikhalkov
Starring Oleg Menshikov
Nikita Mikhalkov
Ingeborga Dapkunaite
Nadezhda Mikhalkova
Music by Eduard Artemyev
Cinematography Vilen Kalyuta
Edited by Enzo Meniconi
Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics
Release dates
May 21, 1994 (premiere at Cannes)
21 April 1995 (U.S.)
18 August 1995 (UK)
14 September 1995 (Argentina)
Running time
135 minutes
Country Russia
Language Russian / French
Budget $2,800,000 (estimated)

Burnt by the Sun (Russian: Утомлённые солнцем, translit. Utomlyonnye solntsem, literally "wearied by the sun") is a 1994 film by Russian director and actor Nikita Mikhalkov and Azerbaijani screenwriter Rustam Ibragimbekov. The film depicts the story of a senior Red Army officer and his family during the Great Purge of the late 1930s in the Stalinist Soviet Union. Like a tragedy by Sophocles, Burnt by the Sun takes place over the course of one day.

The film received the Grand Prize at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival[1] and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, among many other honours.


The Soviet Union, summer 1936. Comdiv Sergei Petrovich Kotov, his wife Maroussia (Ingeborga Dapkūnaitė), and their young daughter Nadia are relaxing in a banya, when they are suddenly interrupted. A peasant from the local collective farm explains that the Soviet Army's tanks are about to crush the wheat harvest as part of general maneuvers. Although annoyed to be bothered during his vacation, Kotov rides on horseback to where the tank crews are confronting outraged peasants.

At first, a tank officer is angry that Kotov curses him out. When the older man borrows a Soviet officer's cap, the tank crews realize they are addressing a senior Old Bolshevik and legendary hero of the Russian Civil War. Taking the radio receiver, Kotov speaks directly to Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky. As the tank crews listen in admiration, Kotov familiarly addresses the Marshal as "Misha" and persuades him to hold maneuvers elsewhere.

Maroussia teases her husband for being "coarse". Nadia does not agree, and the happy family returns to their country dacha. There, they join Maroussia's relatives, a large and eccentric family of Chekhovian aristocrats. Into the pastoral setting comes Mitya (Oleg Menshikov), an ex-nobleman and veteran of the anti-communist White Army. He was Maroussia's fiance before disappearing in 1923. Joyfully embraced by the family, he is introduced to Nadia as "Uncle Mitya". Maroussia is left feeling deeply conflicted, as she had suffered deeply when he left without explanation.

Despite his personable nature, Mitya appears to have returned with a secret agenda, as he works for the Soviet political police, or NKVD. He has arrived to arrest Kotov for a non-existent conspiracy. It is revenge, as Kotov had conscripted Mitya into the CHEKA, the predecessor of the NKVD. Mitya detests Kotov, whom he blames for causing him to lose Maroussia, his love for Russia, faith, and his profession as a pianist. Kotov remarks on Mitya's activities in Paris, where he fingered eight White Army generals to the NKVD. All were kidnapped, smuggled to the Soviet Union, and shot without trial. Kotov says Mitya is "a whore" whose loyalties were "bought".

Believing Mitya's plans to arrest him are a personal vendetta, Kotov boasts of his personal popularity and close relationship with Stalin. Mitya vows to repeat these words at the Lubyanka prison — after Kotov has been forced to confess to false charges of espionage, treason, and plotting to murder Stalin. The men come to blows but when young Nadia returns, they again pretend to be friends.

A black car carrying NKVD agents arrives for the arrest of Kotov. A group of Young Pioneer children arrives at the dacha to pay tribute to Kotov as a hero of the Revolution and the Civil War. In a deeply ironic moment, Kotov leads them all in an oath of loyalty to Joseph Stalin and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union as Mitya looks on. Moments later, Mitya summons Kotov to the car.

Continuing the charade, Mitya and Kotov allow Nadia to ride part of the way with them. After kissing her father and Mitya goodbye, she walks down the road toward home. Maintaining his military coolness, Kotov coldly vows to telephone Stalin and destroy the careers of those who have arrested him. However, the NKVD agents find the road blocked by the truck of a peasant who has gotten lost. When Kotov tries to leave the car to give the peasant directions, the NKVD agents batter him and shackle his hands. Certain that the peasant was sent to rescue Kotov, the agents summarily execute the horrified peasant on the spot.

As the car drives past the peasant's body, Kotov realizes in horror who has really ordered his arrest. With his Communist ideals shattered, Kotov sobs inconsolably. Meanwhile, Mitya looks on unmoved. The car drives on until a massive poster of Joseph Stalin shields it from view.

Mitya is then seen bleeding to death in a bathtub, having slashed his wrists. He whistles the suicide tango, To ostatnia niedziela (Weary Sun), until his song ceases.

As Nadia skips home across a field, a postscript appears on the screen:

Comdiv Sergei Petrovich Kotov "confessed" to all charges and was shot in August 1936. Maroussia was arrested and died in the Gulag in 1940. Although arrested with her mother, Nadia lived to see all three sentences overturned during the Khrushchev thaw. Having inherited her mother's musical gifts, Nadia Kotova works as a teacher in Kazakhstan. In the English release, the postscript ends with the words, "This film is dedicated to all who were burnt by the sun of the Revolution."



The title derives from a popular 1930s song composed by Jerzy Petersburski. Originally the Polish tango, "To ostatnia niedziela" ("This is the last Sunday"), it became popular in the Soviet Union with new Russian lyrics and the title, "Утомлённое солнце" (Utomlyonnoye solntse, "Weary Sun").

The song is heard repeatedly in the film; the director Mikhalkov said in 2007 that he learned of the song from his elder brother Andrei Konchalovsky's 1979 film Siberiade. He compared his use of the music to his having stolen money as a boy from his brother.[2]

The title also refers to a mysterious orb of light, similar to ball lightning, that appears at various points in the film. The postscript says the film is dedicated to those "burnt by the sun" of the Revolution ("weary with the sun" in the Russian title).

Historical influences

The character of Mitya resembles Nikolai Skoblin, a former White Army General who spied on his former comrades in France during the 1930s. On September 22, 1937, Skoblin and his wife delivered General Evgenii Miller of the Russian All-Military Union to the NKVD. General Miller was drugged, kidnapped, and smuggled aboard a Soviet ship in Le Havre harbor. The ship carried General Miller to the Soviet Union, where he was tortured and executed.

Skoblin escaped to Republican Spain, which refused to extradite him for trial in France. He is believed to have been murdered in Spain, France or on a Soviet ship on the orders of the NKVD. Skoblin's wife and handler, Nadezhda Plevitskaya, was arrested, convicted of kidnapping by a French court, and died in prison.


Main article: Burnt by the Sun 2

Nikita Mikhalkov directed and reprised his role as Sergei Petrovich Kotov in his sequel, Burnt by the Sun 2. It competed for the Palme d'Or at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival.[3] Oleg Menshikov and Nadezhda Mikhalkova also reprised their roles from the original film.[4]

Stage play

Playwright Peter Flannery's adapted the film as a stage drama by the same name.[5] It opened at the National Theatre, London, in March 2009.[6][7] The cast included the Irish actor Ciarán Hinds as General Kotov, Rory Kinnear as Mitya, and Michelle Dockery as Maroussia.


  1. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Burnt by the Sun". Retrieved 2009-08-30. 
  2. ^ Q&A with Nikita Mikhalkov held at the National Theatre of Bucharest, April 15, 2007. The event was subsequently aired by the Romanian Television.
  3. ^ "Hollywood Reporter: Cannes Lineup". hollywoodreporter. Retrieved 2010-04-16. [dead link]
  4. ^
  5. ^ Flannery, Peter (26 February 2009). Burnt by the Sun. London: Nick Hern Books. ISBN 978-1-84842-044-1. 
  6. ^ Staff writers. "Burnt by the Sun". Productions. National Theatre. Retrieved 2009-07-10. 
  7. ^ Coveney, Michael (5 March 2009). "Burnt By The Sun, National Theatre, London". The Independent. Retrieved 2009-05-21. 


  • Katerina Clark, "[Review of] films Burnt by the Sun", by Nikita Mikhalkov, Michael Seidou, and Rustam Ibragimbekov; and of The Interpretation of Dreams, by Semen Vinokur and Andrei Zagdansky; in The American Historical Review, Vol. 100, No. 4 (October 1995), pp. 1223–1224

External links