Neutral Waters

[Нейтральные воды]

Vladimir Chetvernikov as Gridasov

USSR, Gorkii Film Studios, 1968, 104 min., b/w
Director: Vladimir Berenshtein
Screenplay: Vladimir Vendelovskii and Vasilii Solov'ev, with Vladimir Berenshtein
Camera: Mikhail Kirillov, Andrei Kirillov
Music: Kirill Molchanov
With: Kirill Lavrov, Vladimir Chetvernikov, Gennadii Karnovich-Valua, Aleksei Ushakov, Mikhail Ianushkevich

Neither the Captain of the Soviet Navy ship "Gordelivyi" ["The Proud"] nor the viewers of the film Neutral Waters learn the exact details of the mission around which the plot of the film unfolds, so faithfully does the young sailor Zhenia Gridasov (Chetvernikov) carry out his mission of protecting the secret documents he carries in a steel briefcase entrusted to him. The Soviet authorities have decided to counter the growing arrogance of the US Navy's Sixth Fleet, which has been asserting its right to dominate the neutral waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Captain Burmin (Lavrov) is ordered to shadow an American ship suspected of carrying a nuclear warhead on board, but he is told that his further orders will be communicated to him only after his rendezvouz with a separate detachment of Soviet naval vessels. In the aftermath of a close encounter with the American ship, Gridasov's briefcase goes overboard and the sailor immediately plunges into the sea to retrieve it. Burmin must now decide between continuing surveillance of the Americans and searching for his lost sailor, while Gridasov struggles between contradictory imperatives: whether he drowns at sea or accepts rescue from the Americans, he fails in his mission to deliver the orders to his Captain.

The release of Neutral Waters came in the immediate aftermath of the Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia. Although regarded as a film of the Thaw, it already signals the transition that would be required by the guardians of Stagnation ideology. A kind of horizontal kinship between the officers and sailors of the two superpowers is signaled at several points in the film, but until the climax of the film there is no direct human contact between them. Various members of the crew, including the Captain himself, are seen off-duty, and their private lives, hopes, aspirations, and disappointments come into sharp focus. But these "echoes" of Thaw sincerity and individuality are inevitably subordinated to a new imperative. The Captain himself alludes to his own problematic biography, noting that he had gotten in trouble with his superior officers due to his lack of toughness. The film illustrates that the true hero can only fully realize his potential by subordinating his private dreams to his public duty. This call to duty over youthful idealism, in various forms and guises, would become an imperative for all cultural producers in the following two decades. As Burmin sums up in his sententious closing line of the film: "Carrying out one's duty is hard, but it's really the reason we live."

Vladimir Berenshtein

Vladimir Borisovich Berenshtein (orig. Bernshtein) was born on November 7, 1927 in Kamenetsk-Podol'sk, Ukraine. He graduated in 1950 from the Institute of Cinematography (VGIK), where he studied in the departments of economics and directing. His work was mostly in film production and administration until 1960 when he received a position at Gorkii Film Studios, where he could direct his own pictures. He has participated in the writing of the scripts for the films that he has directed.

1964 Believe Me, People
1968 Neutral Waters
1972 Hurrah! We're On Vacation!

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