White Sun of the Desert
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"But you should know, my darling Katerina Matveyevna, that the class struggle as of today, is principally and generally over, and the hour of global freedom has struck."
"Why are you here?
There were shots."
"The attraction of White Sun of the Desert is precisely that it is different from heroic Soviet movies. ... He is Odysseus returning home — only how much longer will it take for him to get there, whatever happened to his wife during all this time, and will at least his dog still be alive to recognize him?"--What Every Russian Knows (and You Don't) (2013) by Olga Fedina
Its blend of action, comedy, music and drama, as well as memorable quotes, made it highly successful at the Russian box-office, and it retains high domestic approval. Its main theme song, "Your Noble Highness Lady Fortune" (Ваше благородие, госпожа Удача, music: Isaak Schwarz, lyrics: Bulat Okudzhava, performed by Pavel Luspekaev) became a hit. The film is watched by cosmonauts before most space launches as a good luck ritual.
The setting is the east shore of the Caspian Sea (modern Turkmenistan) where the Red Army soldier Fyodor Sukhov has been fighting the Civil War in Russian Asia for a number of years. The movie opens with a panoramic shot of a bucolic Russian countryside. Katerina Matveyevna, Sukhov's beloved wife, is standing in a field. Awakening from this daydream, Sukhov is walking through the Central Asian desert – a stark contrast to his homeland. He finds Sayid buried in the sand. Sayid, an austere Central Asian, comes to Sukhov's rescue in sticky situations throughout the movie. Sukhov frees Sayid, and they strike a friendly but reticent relationship. While traveling together they are caught up in a desert fight between a Red Army cavalry unit and Basmachi guerrillas. The cavalry unit commander, Rakhimov, leaves to Sukhov the harem, which was abandoned by the Basmachi leader Abdullah, for temporary protection. He also leaves a young Red Army soldier, Petrukha, to assist Sukhov with the task, and proceeds to pursue the fleeing Abdullah.
Sukhov and women from Abdullah's harem return to a nearby shore village. There, Sukhov charges the local museum's curator with protecting the women, and prepares to head home. Sukhov hopes to "modernize" the wives of the harem, and make them part of the modern society. He urges them to take off their burqa and reject polygamy. The wives are loath to do this, though, and as Sukhov takes on the role of protector, the wives declare him their new husband.
Soon, looking for a seaway across the border, Abdullah and his gang come to the same village and find Abdullah's wives. Sukhov is bound to stay. Hoping to obtain help and weapons, Sukhov and Petrukha visit Pavel Vereschagin, a former Tsar's customs official. Vereschagin warms to Petrukha who reminds him of his dead son, but after discussing the matter with his nagging wife, Vereschagin refuses. Sukhov finds a machine gun and a case of dynamite that he plants on Abdullah's ship. Meanwhile, Abdullah has confronted his wives, and is preparing to punish them for their "dishonor", as they did not kill themselves when Abdullah left them. Sukhov manages to capture and lock Abdullah as a hostage, but after he leaves, Abdullah convinces Gyulchatai, the youngest wife of the harem, to free him and then kills Gyulchatai and Petrukha.
The museum curator shows Sukhov an ancient underground passage that leads to the sea. Sukhov and the women of the harem attempt to escape through the passage, but on arriving at the seashore they are impelled to hide in a large empty oil tank. Abdullah discovers that and plans on setting the oil tank on fire.
Enraged at the cold-hearted murder of Petrukha, Vereschagin decides to help Sukhov and takes Abdullah's ship. Sayid also helps Sukhov, and together they fend off Abdullah's gang. Vereschagin, unaware of the dynamite on the ship and not hearing Sukhov's shouted warnings, tragically dies on the exploding ship.
Sukhov kills Abdullah and his gang, and returns the harem to Rakhimov. He then begins his journey home on foot, having refused a horse since a horse is merely "a nuisance". Whether Sukhov will make it home to his beloved wife is unclear: the revolution is not over in Central Asia, and an exemplary Red Army soldier like Sukhov may well be needed.
Another thing, my darling Katerina Matveyevna...
You come to me in my dreams like a pure swan,
you float wherever you wish,
or on some errand, I can't say...
But my breathing gets utterly strained,
like someone had shot me point blank from a cannon.
WHITE SUN OF THE DESERT
Written by Valentin Yezhov and Rustam Ibragimbekov
Directed by Vladimir Motyl
Director of Photography Eduard Rozovsky
Production Designers V.Kostrin, B.Manevich
Music by I.Shvarts Sound by M.Lazarev, G.Salye
Lyrics by B.Okudzhava Letters by M.Zakharov
Starring: Sukhov - Anatoly Kuznetsov
Vereshchagin - Pavel Luspekayev
Said - Spartak Mishulin Abdullah - Kakhi Kavsadze
Nastasya - R.Kurkina Petrukha - N.Godovikov
Gyulchatai - T.Fedotova Rakhimov - M.Dudayev
The film was made with Lenfilm Studios' production support
But you should know, my darling Katerina Matveyevna,
that the class struggle as of today
is principally and generally over,
and the hour of global freedom has struck.
So it's my turn now to go back home,
to build my new life with you
in my native land, so dear to my heart.
Have you been here long?
I'm lucky with stuff like this.
I made a promise that as soon as I get my walking papers,
I'll go straight home.
I've dug out 2 of them, they were fine.
Then there was the 3rd.
I dug him out, he grabbed me by the throat. He was a bandit.
That's the story. His own gang buried him. I barely escaped.
I'll dig you out now.
And take care!
The sun was setting
Black Abdullah is a beast.
He doesn't even spare his own people.
If we'd been a second late, he'd have killed everyone.
Why does he do it, comrade commander?
'Cause he's a bandit.
As soon as we reached these parts,
Abdullah decided to go abroad, and he shoot his harem.
So no one would have them.
With the women, we'll never catch up with Abdullah.
He wanted to off them, 'cause they were a burden.
We can't just leave them here either.
Here's some dried bread for you and some barley.
I'm a little late as I am. My term was over 6 months ago,
and I still roam these sands. I haven't seen my home for years.
That's all I can spare. In Pedzhent you'll find something else.
I can't stay longer, I've made quite a detour.
I'll go straight from here.
I'll reach the Volga, and Samara's not far from there.
There'll be no peace as long as Dzhavdet lives. Why d'you dig me out?
Being dead is peaceful but it's boring.
What d'you have against Dzhavdet?
He killed my father and buried me,
he took 4 sheep, all we had.
And whatshisname... Dzhavdet, is he
with Black Abdullah or what?
They hate each other.
Dzhavdet's a coward. Abdullah's a warrior.
Well, Said, good luck.
Comrade commander, look.
You should've taken him through the chimney. In the old fortress.
Sukhov, help me,
we'll finish him off in a jiffy with you.
You alone are worth a platoon, if not a company.
The Orient is a tricky business.
Why are you here?
There were shots.
Take the women at least.
I've spent 3 days by the old fortress, without sleep.
I thought Abdullah would return for his harem.
They've tied me up, dammit, arms and legs.
Rakhimov, I'm going home.
You take them, and we'll catch Abdullah.
He's at the Dry Creek now. Take them as far as Pedzhent.
To keep them far from that bandit.
I'll give you a man and a horse, plus some grain.
What do you say?
There aren't any of our people for 300 miles around, probably.
- That's right. - Agreed, then.
Comrade women! Don't be afraid!
We'll finish off your exploiting husband,
but for now you're under the command of comrade Sukhov.
He'll feed and protect you, he's a good man.
Am I going to wander this desert to the end of my life?
Don't go to Pedzhent. Abdullah will go there.
We'll wait and see.
Give him the horse.
Here's the list, comrade Sukhov.
Follow me, ladies.
My soul yearns for you,
my dearest Katerina Matveyevna, like a crane longs for the skies.
Yet there's been another small delay.
I think it'll take 3 days, no more.
As a class-conscious soldier, I was charged
with escorting a group of comrades from the brotherly Orient.
It should be noted though,
the people here are agreeable,
one may even say, warm,
with quite a spark in them.
My feet are now running back along the sands,
as my revolutionary duty
On the 3rd day
I'd like to report to you,
our deployment is running smoothly,
in the spirit of brotherly unity
We're walking through the sands and not sighing about anything
but you, my only
and unforgettable Katerina Matveyevna.
So we don't advise you to grieve in vain.
It does no good.
I beg you, not the museum! We have great treasures here!
- Why are you here? - I'm the museum curator.
My name's Lebedev.
- I see. Where's the populace? - In hiding.
Bring the harem here.
Look, comrade curator,
these 9 liberated women of the Orient
are also a great treasure. And don't argue with me.
Any questions? No questions. Follow me!
You'll rest here for a day.
Jamila, Zarina, Gyuzelle,
Saida, Khafiza, Zukhra,
Leila, Zulfia, Gyulchatai...
'Museum of the Red East'
- Maybe another day? - Enough of a good thing.
- Comrade Sukhov... - Don't be shy, Petrukha.
Rakhimov is coming tomorrow to take you from here.
Said, good luck to you.
I'll just have a swim and go home.
Don't get buried again.
To Red Army soldier Sukhov.
Brigade commander M.N.Kovun.
Abdullah had 11 wives. Where are the other 2?
Abdullah'll come and tear your tongue out.
- Why are you silent? - Saving my tongue.
Do you prefer an easy death,
or want to be tortured first?
I'd prefer torture, of course.
- Semyon, ride to Abdullah! - Yes, sir.
Leave it! Now move.
Why are you here?
There were shots.
too many people.
I'm writing to you again, my dear Katerina Matveyevna,
because I have a minute to spare.
So I'm relaxing in the hot sun,
like our cat Vaska does outside the hut.
We're sitting on the sand at the shore of the bluest sea,
without worrying about anything.
The sun is so bright here
that you see only white.
If Rakhimov is late, what will happen then?
Abdullah will kill us for them, you know.
Hello there, fathers!
Begging your pardon!
Where did you get it?
We've been sitting here for a long time.
Take the box. It might come in handy.
Tell to the ladies there'll be no Abdullah. They shouldn't panic.
Tomorrow Abdullah will be here. You should go!
I can't. Did you see how it is now? Stay, Said.
- Dzhavdet's not here. - Good luck then.
Dormitory for Liberated Women of the East. No entry.
- They took the valuable exhibits. - What exhibits?
I told them to use worn carpets.
But they were made in the 11th century!
As you were!
Don't be afraid. It's our master.
Master, no one should see our faces.
Only you. You're our new husband.
Tell your man not to come.
The Revolution has set you free.
You don't have a master now.
And call me simply, comrade Sukhov.
Forget your accursed past.
You'll work freely with us,
and each of you will have a separate husband.
Down with prejudice! A woman is human as well.
Show your face.
You shouldn't think I'm a bad sort...
I'm serious, if anything.
I don't mind you were someone else's wife.
I like your quick disposition. We have a similar nature.
I could ask for your hand in marriage.
My mother is good and kind. Everyone respects her.
- Show your face! - As you were!
- Gyulchatai! - Yes, master!
Announce the reveille to the ladies.
Look, as of today, I'm putting you in charge.
You'll be responsible... Any questions?
The master appointed me his beloved wife!
But I'm serious, I want to marry her.
I wanted to see her face. What if she looks like a crocodile?
Go to the white hut, it's the former Czar's customs house.
Find out who's there now.
Freeze! Hands up!
You know whose house you're in?
- Answer me! - I dunno.
What's wrong with you?
You've never heard about Vereshchagin?
I've lived through it all!
There was a time when everyone
in this place knew me.
I had them all like that.
Now they've forgotten me.
Stop, I said!
Why'd you kill my men, Said?
I sent them to tell you not to look for Dzhavdet at the Dry Creek.
He's not there. Go back to Pedzhent.
Your father was a friend of my father.
The road is easier if you have a good companion.
Look here, your Majesty,
I feel cold with you,
That's a revelation.
A letter from my darling, Wait, don't tear it up...
No luck in dying, I'll have luck in love.
Look here, your Majesty,
Dear Mrs. Fortune,
You are good to some of us,
To others you're torture.
A nine-gram piece of iron,
For the heart's enough.
No luck in dying,
I'll have luck in love.
Hey, boss! D'you have a smoke?
- What're you doing? - It's comrade Sukhov.
Sukhov, you say?
We'll see now what kind of Sukhov he is.
Forgive me, for I have sinned.
- Did you see the peacocks? - I did.
I've swapped my uniform for them.
I don't indulge.
That's right. I'll only finish this and quit, too.
Have a seat!
I like your Petrukha very much.
Will you give us the machine-gun?
- Waiting for Abdullah? - I am.
Look, Sukhov, I used to have a customs house.
I used to have smugglers.
Now there's no customs house and no smugglers.
I'm at peace with Abdullah.
I don't care who's White and who's Red,
who's Abdullah and who're you.
If I could go with you it'd be a different matter.
What's the matter, then?
Shall we go?
What did you say?
What did you promise?
- At your age! - Nastasya!
It's not enough for you that you've ruined my youth,
now you want me to become a widow, huh?
Forgive me for Chrissakes! Don't go with them!
You'll get killed for nothing!
I won't give you the machine-gun.
The peacocks, you say?
Who called you here?
- Have you measured it? - 10 feet!
- Will it burn? - It should.
When it ignites, start to count.
Let them take the launch now.
They're going abroad. After they start it, on the count of 42...
Clean it up here.
The swans... Could they live in our land,
could they have come from our parts?
- Where are you from? - From around Kursk.
I haven't been there.
I left home when I was as young as you are now.
So I knocked about the world
from the Amur
My father told me before he died,
'Abdullah, I've been poor all my life.
So now I want Allah to grant you
an expensive robe and a nice harness for your horse'.
I waited for far too long, and then Allah said,
'Mount your horse and take what you want,
if you're brave and strong'.
My father didn't say anything. Dzhavdet killed him in the back.
Your father was wise, but who on earth knows
what's good and evil?
A knife is good for he who has it.
And it's bad for he who doesn't at the right moment.
Allah, where is he, our husband?
It's her fault.
When I was Abdullah's favorite wife, you saw him every day.
And he even beat someone every day.
Our husband forgot us without really knowing us.
How should we understand him? Are we that bad?
But could... Gyulchatai be not tender enough with him?
- He doesn't like her dress? - Or maybe...
What's the matter?
How old're you?
Forget about it... daughter!
Maybe you really should be married?
I'll give you to Petrukha in marriage.
He's single. He'd take you to his mother.
- I'm your wife. - My wife's at home.
Can't you say that Gyulchatai is your favorite wife?
Would she be offended by that?
How many times do I have to I explain it?
We're supposed to have only one wife. Do you see it?
Is it bad when a single husband loves you,
gives his presents only to you, and takes care of you?
One wife loves him...
Another one sews his clothes, another one cooks his food.
Another one feeds the children.
But the only one?
- Nothing can be done about it. - It's hard.
Sure it is.
OK. Good night.
We'll talk tomorrow.
It's his robe!
You'll stay with us until I catch them.
Another thing I'd like to add for you,
that there are times when I'm so down,
that I feel like I'm choking.
And I wonder how you're doing there.
What troubles might you have? Did you manage the haymaking?
The grain should be rich this year.
But our separation is not for long.
I'll still have to help a group of comrades,
finish some business here, and then straight to you,
my priceless Katerina Matveyevna.
I'm sorry for the slight delay. I'll finish my letter next time.
He's nowhere to be seen.
If you're here, come out!
We're faithful to you, master!
Haven't you been my favorite wife?
Have I offended you just once?
Why didn't you die?
Drop your gun.
Drop it. If you turn I shoot.
5 steps forward.
Tell your sidekicks to get out of the yard.
I'll let you go if your people leave Pedzhent.
I never miss..
Put your hands down..
Ride to the shore, all of you!
Load the boat, prepare to launch it.
I'm staying here as a guest.
If I'm not back by noon, come back
and settle accounts. No get out!
You'll stay here.
I'm going ashore. We'll see what the bandits are doing.
Abdullah was kidnapped!
Don't tell anyone.
They're gonna cheat you.
They'll get on board.
You'll set Abdullah free, they'll come back.
You're giving me caviar again.
I can't eat this damned stuff every day!
I wish you could get some bread.
Jesus, where can you get it now? Eat!
You need to eat after drinking.
Aren't they scared in the village now?
No one comes out of their houses.
The Central Committee's rep is still in the city with the police chief.
And the red-head who's come to us,
they say, he caught Abdullah himself.
That's not a good sign.
Jesus, you shouldn't get involved, at least.
Enough already, you've finished your war.
Show me you face!
Looks like someone's prowling.
Bring me some water.
Oh it's you? Why're you there?
Please, not a word to anyone. It's our hiding place.
Open your veil, will you?
Now leave, quick.
You can't stay here alone.
I can't. Abdullah will kill the women.
Abdullah will kill you. They're his wives.
- Farewell. - I counted on you.
If I'm killed,
who will take revenge on Dzhavdet?
I counted on you, Said.
If the fates don't let us see each other again,
Katerina Matveyevna, you should know...
I was and am, to my last breath,
faithful only to you.
And if it may happen that I remain in these sands forever,
I may be a little blue, for this experience is new to me...
Or it may happen that I've met people here,
who were mostly warm and, one may even say,
I bear witness, as fighter
for the happiness of all working people of the globe,
the Red Army soldier of the Comrade August Bebel Memorial
Trans-Caspian International Revolutionary Proletarian
Sukhov, Fyodor Ivanovich.
Well, curator, are the women gone?
I detained them. Look,
this is the tunnel.
It leads to the shore.
The Samonides made it.
No one's used it in the last 400 years.
They're nowhere to be seen!
They couldn't go far.
Let go of my hand. Let me go!
- What is this violence? - Let him go, Ahmed.
Be so kind as to stop the plunder immediately.
There are no women here, and I don't know anything about them.
There should be an underground tunnel here.
There's no one here!
He couldn't bury them in the sand.
No one's here either.
How could you open this bitch?
- By blowing it up? - We have no grenades.
Save at least one bullet, Abdullah.
You'll have something to shoot yourself with.
Look here, your Majesty,
Ardent was your hugging,
But there was no affection.
In silky nets you're trying
To catch me, now lay off.
Out of luck in dying,
I'll have luck in love.
Look here, your Majesty,
dear Mrs. Conquest,
I haven't finished singing...
...as you might have noticed,
You devils, stop lying, Don't swear an oath of blood...
Abdullah sent me. We're out of grenades and you have them.
Stop this stupid song.
Out of luck in dying, I'll have luck in love...
Stand up when a Lieutenant talks with you!
- What's wrong with you? - He's got the wrong grenades.
The full one.
Abdullah, do you still wear a yashmak?
Or are you disguised as a man?
Abdullah, your wives are affectionate.
- I feel good with them. - They’re yours..
When I ignite the oil,
you'll feel really good.
As good as it gets.
Can't stand them anymore. Better run.
Grenades to some, bullets to others...
Let the plague take them!
Move it! Quick!
Are you asleep, freak? I'll teach you with a lash!
Where are you going? I'll kick your bloody mug!
I'll bury you in a ditch.
Long time no see, Abdullah.
A very long time.
Are you still roaming? And shooting?
I'm too old and lazy now. Remember me when I was young?
Those were the days...
What are your people doing?
Do they really want to blow it up?
There's a fellow there, doesn't want to come out.
Fedor! Is Petrukha with you?
Petrukha is dead, Pavel Artemyich!
Abdullah knifed him.
You go! A good wife, a house,
what else does an old man need?
So I spent some money, but I got the flour.
I'll make some borsht now, and pancakes,
with bran, they'll be rough, but bread anyway.
We've been here too long. The rep comes back from the center,
and we'll go to Astrakhan with the first launch.
Time to tend to our son's grave. It's all grown over now.
And we haven't been to church for 2 years. It's a sin.
Put your embroidered shirt on..
When I see you in it, I remember everything clearly.
When we saw each other in the Tsaritsyn hospital...
Do you remember the 'Prince of Tavria' steamship?
At the Kazan fair, remember how
you did that staff captain?
Isn't the load too big for you?
All your goods smuggled, huh?
There's no one at customs. I don't know who to pay the duty.
Do you want us to pay with gold?
You know me, Abdullah, I don't take bribes.
I'm offended for my great country.
Aristarkh, settle it with the customs man..
Fire it up!
It's me speaking, Said!
What do you mean, Said?
Vereshchagin, get off the boat!
Now you wash up, guys!
He's gone, he went after all!
Well, customs man, have you come to your senses?
Abdullah, customs say it's OK!
- Makhmud! - Fire it up!
Take him from behind. Makhmud!
Don't let him stick his head out.
Don't start the engine!
We'll come closer, Fedor Ivanovich.
You'll explode, stop it!
I'm here, Abdullah.
You can come out, ladies.
Look here, your Majesty,
Dear Mrs. Fortune,
You are good to some of us,
To others you're a torture.
A nine-gram piece of iron In my heart's enough.
Out of luck in dying, I'll have luck in love.
The sun wasn't up yet
Could you wait? We could go to the city together.
And then we'll take the railroad.
No, it's out of the way. I'll go straight, it's faster.
- Take the horse at least. - Too much trouble with it.
Got to feed it. Farewell.
Zarina, Gyuzelle, Saida,
Good-bye, ladies, and I'm sorry for any inconvenience.
Don't mention it.
What are you going to do with Dzhavdet? Need any help?
No. Dzhavdet is mine.
If you meet him, don't touch him.
Well, good luck then.
A good day, and a pleasant moment.
How are you, my priceless Katerina Matveyevna.
Don't take my latest delay amiss.
It seems to be my fortune.
Nothing like that will happen again.
So I hasten to inform you that I'm alive and in good health,
and wishing you the same...
Sukhov's dream scenes were filmed first, near Luga, Leningrad Oblast, while the bulk of the film was shot on the western shore of the Caspian Sea near Makhachkala, Dagestan. The sand dune scenes were shot in the Karakum Desert near Mary, Turkmenistan, with the museum scenes filmed in the nearby ancient city of Merv. The distinctive Kyz Kala (Gyz Gala) fortress, for example, figures prominently. The dune scenes were demanding for actors, who had to make large circles in the scorching heat to approach the shooting location without leaving telltale traces in the sand. However, the heaviest burden fell on Mishulin, who spent in total several days in a box buried in sand while preparing for several takes of the opening scene. The village buildings and Vereschagin's house were temporary mockups that had to be regularly repaired due to damage from frequent winds.
Horse riding scenes were performed by the special stunt unit formed for the War and Peace film series. Although it did not perform any stunts in this film, one member of the unit died in an accident during filming. Some other accidents occurred due to poor overall discipline and security. For example, a cut is seen on Vereschagin's face when he fights on the ship. He received this cut in a drunken brawl the day before. Also, some props were stolen by local thieves one night. Security was improved after Motyl hired a local criminal leader for the role of a member of Abdullah's gang.
The film involved two dangerous stunts, the first when Abdullah's officer, supposedly thrown out by Vereschagin, breaks through a second-floor window and falls to the sand below. The other is when Sukhov jumps from an oil tank set on fire. Both stunts were performed by Valentin Faber.
Pages linking in as of Feb 2021
1969 in film, 1970 in film, 2011 in Russia, Anatoly Borisovich Kuznetsov, Basmachi movement, Bulat Okudzhava, Cinema of Russia, Cinema of the Soviet Union, Eduard Rozovsky, Galina Dashevskaya, Grigory Chukhray, Isaac Schwartz, Kakhi Kavsadze, List of adventure films of the 1970s, Mass media in Russia, Mosfilm, Nadezhda Rumyantseva, Ostern, Pavel Luspekayev, Russia, Russian culture, Russians, Rustam Ibragimbekov, Spaghetti Western, Spartak Mishulin, Sukhov, The Captivating Star of Happiness, The Seventh Bullet, Valentin Yezhov, Vereshchagin, Vladimir Motyl, White sun, Yuri Chernov, Zhenya, Zhenechka and Katyusha