Transferring Sholokhov's story to film
Vladimir Monakhov
from 107 Years of Sholokhov, a elebration in honor of
M.A. Sholokhov's 107th Birthday, 24 May 2012.

M.A. Sholokhov on the set of
"The Fate of a Man", 1959
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.

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.

We asked:

"Do you think he would recognize himself from your story or the film we are going to make?"

Sholokhov replied:

"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 it.

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 countries.

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.

For more on Sholkhov, visit:
107 Years of Sholokhov

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