Turn Your Body to the Sun review – staggering second world war survival story – The Guardian

Aliona van der Horst’s documentary tells an impossibly painful and unhappy story from the second world warfare; it’s a rare story, arguably worthy of Boris Pasternak and David Lean. It’s introduced by Dutch Estonian novelist Sana Valiulina, born in Soviet-era Tallinn and resident in Amsterdam since 1989. All her life, she reveals, she has been obsessive about the reminiscence of her father, Sayar, a chilly and distant determine when she was rising up, as a result of for 15 years after the warfare he had been imprisoned within the gulag and made to internalise a grotesque sense of disgrace for having allowed himself to be taken prisoner by the Nazis after the battle of Smolensk in 1941; Stalin had advised his troops to die in fight reasonably than undergo this dishonour.

Sayar by no means spoke in regards to the warfare, or his postwar experiences within the gulag, however utilizing his diaries and letters, Valiulina has pieced collectively his staggering story. He joined the Purple Military as a teen, turned Stalin’s cannon fodder after Hitler’s invasion and was captured. However crazed with starvation and concern and PTSD, he accepted the Germans’ Mephistophelean cut price: in return for meals, he may be part of their turncoat “volunteer battalion”, put on the swastika of the Germans’ Jap Legions and combat towards his former comrades. Because it turned out, these forces had been chaotically ineffective and paralysed by patriotic guilt, so that they had been redeployed by the Nazis to France the place they confronted the Allies’ seashore landings. Sayar escaped and introduced himself to the Individuals as a “defector” and a “prisoner-of-war” which the GIs seem to have accepted with out asking too many questions. Sayar was in liberated Paris after which shipped out to the UK. However in line with the phrases of the Yalta convention, Sayar needed to be repatriated to the Soviet Union, the place a grim future awaited him.

However that’s not all. Sayar evidently befriended writers and intellectuals within the camps, turned an autodidact, literary fanatic and compulsive letter-writer, firing off missives to a household buddy; she was the aunt of a younger girl referred to as Tagira who was to change into Sayar’s spouse and the mom of Sana herself. An impulsive romantic, Tagira found these letters at her aunt’s home; she wrote again and the pair started a outstanding epistolary love affair which lasted 15 years. Sana’s mom consecrated herself to this unseen suitor: the lonely, tortured, susceptible, self-made mental burdened by the injustice of warfare. (When she lastly clapped eyes on Saya on his launch at Moscow station, she seems to have been shocked by how wizened and decreased he was, in contrast with the outdated pictures she had seen; she ran away however lastly accepted her future.)

We see Sayar’s now middle-aged daughters, Sana and Dinar, travelling as much as the frozen north, attempting to think about what it should have been like for him. Van der Horst makes use of digitally enhanced silent archival footage with a dramatised voiceover of Sayar’s writings; Sana tells us of her agony in attempting to glimpse her father’s face on this outdated historic movie. After which in an outdated copy of a GI journal referred to as Yank she makes a flabbergasting discovery. An arresting and poignant story from a wartime nightmare that continued silently for years after peace had been declared. The title is taken from Sayar’s personal recorded dedication within the icy gulag to show his physique to the solar wherever potential: for British audiences it might recall Wilfred Owen’s poem, Futility: “Transfer him into the solar — /Gently its contact awoke him as soon as … ”

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