Fate of a Man

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Fate of a Man
Fate of a Man.jpg
Directed bySergei Bondarchuk
Produced byGoskino
Written byJury Lukin
Feodor Shakmagonov (screenplay)
Mikhail Sholokhov (novel)
StarringSergei Bondarchuk
Zynaida Kiriyenko
Pavel Volkov
Pavlik Boriskin
Music byVeniamin Basner
CinematographySergey Veronkov
Distributed byMosfilm
Release date
  • August 1959 (1959-08)
Running time
103 minutes
CountrySoviet Union

Fate of a Man (Russian: Судьба человека, translit.  Sudba Cheloveka), also released as A Man's Destiny and Destiny of a Man is a 1959 Soviet film adaptation of the short story by Mikhail Sholokhov, and also the directorial debut of Sergei Bondarchuk. In the year of its release it won the Grand Prize at the 1st Moscow International Film Festival;[1] Bondarchuk would win again for the first part of his colossal adaption of Tolstoy's War and Peace, titled Andrei Bolkonsky, six years later.


The film begins in the Soviet Union in spring of 1946, as truck driver Andrei Sokolov (Bondarchuk) and his young son travel along a road in the country and run into a man Sokolov recognizes as a fellow former army truck driver. Sokolov begins to tell the story of his experiences after returning from the Russian Civil War and the famine of 1922. A flashback shows Andrei building a house in Kuban, where he meets and falls in love with his future wife Irina. Soon the pair are married and have a son, Anatoly (nicknamed Tolyushka), and two daughters. Andrei leads a happy family life for 17 years, until the Second World War.

As the war begins, Andrei is enlisted as a Red Army truck driver, leaving his family behind. He is ordered to drive on a road under bombardment to carry vital supplies to the army. Stukas discover and divebomb Andrei's convoy. While other trucks stop and the personnel run for cover, Andrei continues driving. A close bomb explosion overturns his truck and knocks Andrei unconscious. When he comes to, two German officers take him prisoner. Andrei and other captured Soviet POWs are sent to an abandoned church, where a Russian doctor sets his dislocated shoulder.

The next morning, all prisoners suspected of being either communists, commissars, officers, or Jews are rounded up and executed. The doctor who treated Andrei is also killed. The rest of POWs are sent to a concentration camp. Andrei, desperately lonely, dreams of his family calling out to him and longing for his return. Andrei and other prisoners are used as forced laborers. Andrei tries to escape but is recaptured and transferred to a concentration camps in Germany. He is held in many camps, including B-14 (near Küstrin) where each prisoner is required to move four cubic meters of rubble every day. One night, Andrei is called into the camp commander's office. The commander says that Andrei is sentenced to execution for complaining in the barracks. The commander says that he will do Andrei the honor and shoot him personally. Before taking Andrei out to shoot him, the commander gives him a glass of vodka to salute German victory at Stalingrad. Andrei refuses to drink to that, but agrees to toast the end of his suffering. After Andrei downs the large glass, the commander offers him a bite to eat. However, Andrei says he never eats after only one glass. The officer pours him another, which he downs equally quickly, again refusing food, claiming he never drinks after only two glasses. The German officers, awed by his drinking prowess, applaud him, and the commander gives a third, which he manages to drink as well, now having put away a whole bottle, to everyone's amazement. The commander, who speaks good Russian, tells Andrei he is a brave soldier, spares his life, and gives him a loaf of bread and some butter or cheese. Andrei manages to stagger back to the barracks, says: "Everyone gets an equal share" and collapses. We see the prisoners carefully dividing up the precious food.

The next morning a fellow inmate informs Andrei that the German forces in Stalingrad have been defeated. The mood in the camp shifts. As the Nazi forces retreat in Russia, the camp guards start to treat their inmates less harshly. Andrei gets a job driving a German major who oversees local road and defense installation maintenance. One day, when the major falls asleep in the car, Andrei decides to try another escape. In a desperate bid for freedom, he drives straight through a minefield. Andrei crashes into a tree and is flung out of the car. He wakes up surrounded by Red Army soldiers. He explains that he is Russian even though he wearing German uniform. He is overcome with joy. Russian officers inform him that the major's briefcase contained top-secret information useful to the Soviets, and that he is to be nominated for a hero's medal. He is treated at a hospital and given a month furlough. When he comes home, though, Andrei finds that his house and most of the city has been destroyed. Andrei's flashback ends as he recounts the awful memory of the shattered remains of his beloved house.

The man sitting next to Andrei in the frame story asks him: "and then what happened?" Another flashback starts: we see Andrei at the house of a local resident, who tells Andrei how a bombardment in June 1942 killed his wife and daughters, after which his son volunteered for the front. Andrei's grief seems almost unbearable. He returns to the front and fights on until the end of the war. At one point he receives a letter from his son and is excited that his son is alive. As soon as the war is over, however, his joy is dashed when his commander calls him in and tells him that his son died several days before the end of the war. Andrei attends his funeral amid victory parades and celebrations.

With the war over, Andrei resumes truck driving. At a rest stop in Uryupinsk he meets a poor starving child, whom he offers a ride in his truck. On the road, the two talk and Andrei asks the boy who his father is. The boy says that his father was killed at the front, his mother died as well, he has no one left and does not know where he is from. Andrei tells the boy that he is his father; the boy is overwhelmed and overjoyed, and the pair return to start a new life, though Andrei is still haunted by dreams of his former loved ones.

The story then returns to the opening scene in the spring after the war. Andrei finishes his story, adding that he fears he may die in his sleep and have no chance to guide his young son. The boy runs up and says "Let's go, papa!" and Andrei departs with his son.



  1. ^ "1st Moscow International Film Festival (1959)". MIFF. Archived from the original on 2013-01-16. Retrieved 2012-11-03.

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