“The Edge” (Край) – a 2010 film by Aleksei Uchitel’ – is a captivating tale of building relationship between people of various languages, nationalities and backgrounds in the 1945 Soviet Union. Ambiguity of Soviet life, juxtaposition of the slogans and narratives, goals and outcomes fills the film and brings it to an unexpected, only somewhat happy ending.
On the surface it is an entirely fictional story of the soldier Ignat (Vladimir Mashkov) returning from the war in 1945 to fulfill his passion to drive trains again. Trains are in short supply, however, and the local people are unfriendly, too. So the viewers are not entirely surprised when Ignat teams up with a German (enemy!) girl Elsa (Anjorka Strehel) and procures the train to win the final train race.
Yet everything in this fictional story has verifiable historical foundation. Ignat comes to the remote station on the edge of Siberia, which is now a lumber camp. Workers at this lumber camp are free only nominally, as there are no roads but the railroad. Also, they have no documents are the “traitors of motherland” – virtually all of them were taken to work in Germany and upon liberation of Europe sent for correction into the camp. Many of them are orphans, others come from every corner of the Soviet Union – Lithuania, Ukraine, Bielorussia, Armenia. None of them are truly local, but one person – Vovka, a character with the speech and lifestyle of Dersu Uzala. A german girl was a daughter of an engineer who came to build bridges and run the trains in the brief period of Soviet-German peace between 1939 and 1941. All of them are both in the Edge (the name of the train station and the settlement itself) and on the edge between human and animal, national and international, free and involuntary.
Dialogue and musical background from the radio both reinforce the historical accuracy of the movie, and break it apart through references to later contexts and movies. Heroes do not shy strong words, speak in Ukranian, Armenian, German, and Russian, not to mention the variety of accents and intonations. On the other hand, their speech is familiar with references to post-1950 cultural references, which makes the film more endearing to the Russian viewers.
The movie is an action melodrama and ultimately provides little food for thought for an educated viewer. Yet the conflict within the triad of man-machine-nature, and its reflection in the conflict of man-nation-state infuse the characters with symbolic meaning. This is a movie definitely worth watching for the acting, train races, love and faithfulness, and loyalty to nation and the heart drama in the late 1940s Soviet Union.