Mikhail Kalatozov's The First Echelon chronicles the lives of a group of young men and women who arrive in the region of Kazaakhastan, with the assignment of working as farmers to help cultivate the land. The film ends in a way that essentially just glorifies collective farming, but I think it does raise a lot of questions on it's way there. The youth are incredibly enthusiastic when they first arrive; they are all very friendly to one and other and can't wait to prove themselves for the greater good of their country. As the film progresses, we see some of this enthusiasm dissipate as the competitive culture of their environment grabs hold, with certain characters lashing out against authority, while others just try to do what they are told. This sense of competition and efficiency breeds a certain loss of individualism, as numbers and results become more important than anything else. While I do think the film is a little too talky, its greatest strength lies in the characters and relationships that unfold. All the characters have a lot of depth, and bring unique traits to this story and the film does a good job at balancing them all. The two most compelling characters for me had to be this hooligan type character who frequently gets in trouble with authority, and a character who has been given a position of power, who seems to slightly feel his humanity is disappearing as he is forced to make tough decisions. These two characters from a great dichotomy for the film, and while there is no question that this is a weaker effort of Mikhail Kalatozov, The First Echelon still has a lot of interesting anecdotes, with one of my favorite being its most likely unintentional anti-drinking message.
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