THE MAKING OF "FATE OF A MAN"
Transferring Sholokhov's story to film
Mikhail Sholokhov's story, The Fate of a Man, was published in Pravda on the 1st January 1957. It astonished me. The
usual thing is for a New Year story to be funny or light-hearted. But here was the story of a man whose life was hard and
whose fate was tragic. The story of a man who had been singed by the flames of war, lost his wife and children and yet
right to the end had done his duty to his country and his people.
M.A. Sholokhov on the set of
"The Fate of a Man", 1959
Interest in this story and a desire to make a film out of it
led Sergei Bondarchuk [director] and me to the author himself.
We were interested in whether Andrei Sokolov, the hero of
the story, had a prototype, whether Sholokhov had based his
character on anyone in particular. It turned out, of course,
that he was based on several characters, but nevertheless,
Sholokhov had met a man whose tragic story was very similar to the character in the novel.
"Do you think he would recognize himself from your story
or the film we are going to make?"
"I'm sure he would. Much of his life is contained in the
story. Like Sokolov in the story, he too had taken care of a
little boy and was with him when I met him. But after he
left I never saw him again and have no idea what became of
him. His heart wasn't too good."
Then Sholokhov said something which made me look again
at the art of the cinema.
"You're a funny lot, you cinema workers," he said. "You
begin to develop your theme, fine! But then you try to do
everything at once. If you want to make a film out of my
story, I'd like to see you start it unhurriedly, make it a bit on
the boring side..." (this was exactly the expression he used) "...if
you like. Let the audience think that you're beginning slowly, let them want to hurry you, but don't be in a hurry yourself."
Sholokhov wanted to show us the places where the action
of the story might have taken place and where we might film
He took us along the Don which had overflowed its banks
at that time, flooding the forests. He helped us to understand
the special nature of the Don landscape.
We were looking for a suitable place to set the scene. Sholokhov took us to the village of Kislovsky and showed us a
road winding through the lowlands and then going sharply
uphill. He said:
"There, along that road your hero might have walked with
the little boy. And here on the river bank the writer might
well have chatted to Andrei Sokolov."
Later we were to film in this spot. We tried to make the
setting of the film correspond to the setting of the story.
The tragic fate of Andrei Sokolov, who, on the very day
that victory was announced, heard that his son had been killed, was not invented. It reflected the life of a Russian soldier and the full depths of his suffering and terrible losses.
Working on the film, we met many former prisoners of war
who'd been held by the fascists. I remember the conversations
at Bondarchuk's flat where many of the details of the film
were worked out, for instance, the musical instrument made
of a jam-jar on which one of the prisoners knocked out a tune.
Much of what we learned during these conversations we weren't
able to make use of. We had to restrict ourselves. But these
meetings and conversations were not time wasted. The authenticity of life itself confirmed the authenticity of Sholokhov's
story and helped us understand the profundity of truth contained in his work.
The fate of the hero was close to us, the makers of the film,
too. Several of the film crew knew from their own experience what sufferings the war had brought. Sergei Bondarchuk and I took part in the war. Our fate in those years was
inseparably linked with the fate of the people: I lost my youngest brother who was killed when his tank was blown up, and
I suffered shell-shock at Stalingrad and was severely wounded
at Kursk. Making the film, we remembered our friends and
loved ones and were able to pay some tribute to their heroism.
The film was well received everywhere. The fate of Andrei Sokolov touched the hearts of millions and not only in
the Soviet Union. The film was shown in more than a hundred
In the process of coming to understand the sources of the
people's heroism, the role of art is invaluable. For art is better
equipped than any other form of social consciousness to tell
about Soviet man, who was mainly responsible for our victory. It is capable of understanding the soul of the victorious
soldier, and revealing the richness of his personality, that was
born of the revolution and nurtured by Soviet power.
There were so many acts of heroism during those years of
war that tales of the selfless courage of the people will be
told long after we are dead and gone. The new generation, I
am sure, will understand in their own way, even more deeply than we do the greatness of our victory in the Great Patriotic War, a victory which saved world civilization.
Reprinted from Soviet Literature, 1977, No.5.
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