I was browsing the Internet Movie DataBase the other day, and noticed they had a list of media with a keyword of “post-apocalyptic”. I filtered it by “movie”and started scanning the list until I got to one I didn’t recognize, Pisma myortvogo cheloveka from 1986 (Dead Man’s Letters, or Letters from a Dead Man in English). I’ve mentioned a couple times recently that I’m interested in non-American post-apocalyptic stories, so the prospect of a undiscovered, highly-rated, foreign-language PA movie really grabbed my attention.
I took a look at Ebay, but only found a region 2 DVD available, so headed off to torrentz.com to find it. I went for the larger of the two versions I found, and it took over a week for it to come down. Luckily, it’s a DVD .iso, so it’s complete with the English subtitles.
I finally got to watch it tonight, and it’s hard to put into words how I felt about it. I mean I loved it, but at the same time, it was such a downer, I can’t say I felt good while watching it. I saw a forum post that called this “the Russian Threads” and in some regards, they’re right. This movie is just as depressing, and has the same lack of any kind of positive overtones. But it goes even further than Threads in that it’s filmed in a kind of sepia-colored grainy black and white that totally matches the settings.
There appears to be some debate about where the movie is supposed to take place. I’ve seen forum posters say Russia, an Eastern European country, and even the United States. I assumed it was Russia, but the characters did use several Christian references, and there was even a priest character, which I thought was strange given our stereotype of the “Godless communists”. It takes place an undetermined time, probably several months, after a nuclear war, which is started by accident. The survivors live in the basements and lower levels of buildings, while outside on the surface is nothing but utter devastation; destroyed and collapsed buildings, ash and dust.
For the length of the film, we get to watch the main character, a Nobel Prize winning scientist, and a few colleagues slowly die, whether from war-related causes or by their own hands, or abandon each other to their fates, while we’re told that only the young and strong are allowed to go to the “central bunker” where the plan is to stay underground for 30 years. Our characters are neither, so we never see the inside of that bunker.
Some have said that the final scene offers a glimmer of hope, but given how the rest of the events in the story went, I wouldn’t be too hopeful of a good outcome. (Though now that I think about it, there was a voiceover that suggested a certain outcome. I may have to watch that part again.) But in any case, if you’re a fan of the genre, you have to try to track this one down. The acting was great, and the settings themselves were awesome. I can’t recall seeing a more devastated cityscape in a movie before.
One final note about something I found interesting. In the final credits, there’s a note that says “Thanks to the Committee of Soviet Scientists for Peace Against Nuclear Threat.” I did some Googling, and apparently that group put out a book called The Night After–: Climatic and Biological Consequences of a Nuclear War: Scientists’ Warning in 1983. I suppose the film makers used their descriptions of what the effects of a war would be in their planning. And I found it interesting that while we (Americans) stereotypically supposed the Russians wanted nothing more than to nuke all of us Yankees to dust, there was actually a group in their own society who campaigned against that possibility.
ps I’m not sure if my download was bad or what, but twice in the movie it just skipped forward about five minutes. I didn’t realize at first that I could rewind back to the skipped over minutes. So if you download it and think you’re missing something, try rewinding to check. I almost missed the scene of the bombs falling, which was done really well.