Shared May 9, 2014
Katya, a poor and desperate widow, and her young son Sanya try to survive in the post-World War II Soviet Union during the late 1940s through the early 1950s. While on a train, the two meet a handsome, rakish officer, Tolyan, who seduces the mother. Katya stays with Tolyan, who pretends to be her husband and acts as a stepfather to Sanya, who is at first highly distrustful of the man, resenting his presence and authority. There are several allusions to Hamlet.
Through his good looks, apparent generosity, and his status as a war veteran, Tolyan charms his way into a variety of lucrative positions. Katya and Sanya both realize the harsh and increasingly abusive nature of the new head of their family, but, although alarmed, neither mother nor child seems willing to leave the man. The extent of Tolyan's love for his new family remains ambiguous throughout the film and provides one of the more compelling elements of the story.