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Fly-on-the-wall treatment of an ordinary day in the life of a prisoner in Stalin`s Gulag. Closely adapted from Solzhenitsyn`s classic novel based on his own experiences. Shot entirely on location in northern Norway.
In 1950, Ivan Denisovich suffers through another day in the eighth year of his ten-year prison sentence in a Siberian forced labor camp. Inside the crowded barracks, Ivan, who has felt ill all night, dreads the coming morning and its accompanying punishing work in sub-zero temperatures. When he does not manage to stir from his bunk quickly enough, a guard punishes him with three days in the solitary cells. After the other men try to console him, he is released from the sentence by a guard who realizes that they need as many men working as possible. Outside, one prisoner climbs a frozen pole to read the temperature, and they are all disappointed to learn that it is only twenty-seven degrees below zero, as it must be below negative-forty for work to be suspended. After Ivan scrubs the floor of the guards' office while they call him a swine, he eats his meager breakfast of watery fish soup and boiled grass. He then visits the infirmary, but the attendant there chastises him for coming too late, as only two men per day can be exempted from work. Ivan knows that the men have been ordered to work at a remote site to build the Socialist Center for Cultural Activities. With no shelter available, the assignment promises almost certain death. Returning to the barracks, he hoards half of his daily bread ration, then is pleased to learn that they have been reassigned to another work site. Alyosha, who sleeps next to Ivan, reads aloud from a small religious tract. The men wrap their feet in blankets, then don their thin boots to line up in the snow. The guards then force the men to undress in the frigid cold, and when some are caught wearing extra undershirts, they are stripped of the shirts and commanded to hand in a written explanation, despite the fact that they have no pens or ink. When one man, a former navy captain, protests that making the men strip is cruel, he receives a ten-day sentence in the solitary cells, to begin after he works a full day. On the barge that takes the men to the work site, strict rules dictate that they will be shot without warning for attempting to escape if they move from their assigned spot. As the sun finally rises, the men are brought to a frigid power station that will serve as their shelter. The guards, in fur-lined parkas, hats and boots, leave the men, who huddle for warmth. The captain tries to keep the men from picking up dirty cigarette butts, but they warn him he has too much pride. Soon, they work together to secure the power station from cold, knowing this is their only hope for survival during the long work days ahead. Although they are allowed no firewood to keep warm or help melt the ice they must destroy with their pick-axes, Ivan and another man determine to scrounge some timber by digging out fence posts and devising a way to carry them back. The team leader pushes each group member to work hard, knowing that they must achieve certain goals or everyone will be denied food. After hours of work, they warm themselves inside and discuss their various crimes and sentences. Ivan explains that he was a soldier in 1942 when he was captured by the German army. He and four others managed to escape, but upon returning to Soviet lines, was arrested as a spy. He now conjectures that life in the camp is not the worst, as they have quiet lives and do not live among thieves and murderers. Later, at lunch, Ivan pilfers two extra bowls of soup, and although all the men eye the bowls hungrily, the team leader gives one to Ivan and the other to the captain. One team member, a filmmaker named Tsezar Markovich, has been assigned to the office for the day, and Ivan now brings his lunch to him, along the way pocketing a small piece of metal he finds. Tsezar is discussing Russian film director Sergei Eisenstein with another prisoner, and balks when the other man calls the famed director an opportunist, because he compromised his work for the politics of the time. Back at the power station, the team leader tells his story of surviving near-starvation and freezing in the army, and urges them to keep going. Hour after hour, the men work in pairs and compete to see who can build a wall the fastest. The prisoner foreman arrives to berate the team leader for using building materials to insulate the power station, but the men band together and threaten to kill the man if he informs on them. When darkness finally falls, the leader pushes them to continue working despite their exhaustion. Ivan and the team leader are the last to stop working, and must run to the lineup so they can be counted by the guards. One prisoner who has fallen asleep is saved from a beating by his own men, who hit him before the guards can. Afterward, a guard orders them at gunpoint to lay down in the snow. As the group trudges back to the barge, Ivan asks the captain where the moon goes after it sets, guessing that God breaks it up into stars to replace the fallen stars. Along the long, cold trek back to the prison, the captain reveals that after a month on a British naval cruiser, he was arrested as a spy. The team leader instructs the men to run back to the prison, hoping to beat the other teams and secure enough food for dinner. At the entrance, the guards inspect the prisoners' coats, and Ivan is frightened that his piece of metal will be discovered but manages to pass the inspection. Although years earlier Ivan instructed his wife, whom he can barely remember, not to send him any packages, he still longs for one, and now promises Tsezar he will stand in line for him at the parcel office. When Tsezar shows up, he offers Ivan his dinner in return for saving his place. In the dining hall, the food is passed out, and the others watch forlornly as Ivan eats the double ration. They retire to the crowded barracks, where Ivan trades for some tobacco. A guard enters and, after commanding that the reports on the unauthorized extra shirts be written immediately, escorts the captain to the cells. The men are then called out for two more accountings, and Ivan helps Tsezar guard his parcel against thieves as they file in and out of the barracks. Alyosha urges Ivan to pray, but Ivan retorts that prayer is like complaining to authorities: either the message never gets through or it comes back marked rejected. Alyosha is undeterred, however, and cautions him to pray only for spiritual matters and to rejoice that here in captivity he is free to examine his soul. Just before bed, Tsezar gives Ivan some food from his parcel, and as he pulls up his thin blankets, Ivan shares the food with Alyosha. As the captain battles to stay warm in the bitterly cold cell, Ivan goes to sleep, content that the day, in which he avoided solitary confinement, ate extra porridge and did not fall ill, was a good one.
Cast & Crew
|MPAA Ratings:||G||Premiere Info:||American premiere in New York: 16 May 1971|
|Release Date:||1971||Production Date:||
|Color/B&W:||Color (Eastmancolor)||Distributions Co:||Cinerama Releasing Corp.|
|Sound:||Mono||Production Co:||Leontes Films, Norsk Films, Group W Films|
|Duration(mins):||100||Country:||Great Britain, Norway and United States|
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