The USSR in the early fifties. Six-year-old Sania lives alone with his mother, Katia, a young war widow. She is seduced by Tolian who, although disguised as an officer, is actually a professional burglar and pickpocket. Sania at first feels suspicion - even hatred -towards his mother's lover, but he gradually grows to treat him as a father figure. Tolian is unfaithful to Katia, however, and is soon back in prison serving a seven-year sentence. Once again, the boy finds himself fatherless; then, a few months later, Katia dies and Sania, unable to forget Tolian, is taken to live in an orphanage. But the latter does not even recognise him when he gets out of jail and Sania's growing hatred leads him to murder the man he once loved. Much later, Sania, now an officer in the Russian army, thinks he recognises Tolian in the features of an old beggar he sees through the windows of a train on a station platform...

Director's Statement

The idea to shoot THE THIEF came to me three years ago. Very long ago I heard a story about a thief who, posing as an army officer, settles into communal flats with a woman and her young child, and then robs his unsuspecting neighbours. lt was easy to do, because a man in widely viewed as a trustworthy individual in the postwar country. Besides, I always wanted to shoot a film about my childhood, the way of life in communal flats, the stories I heard from older people ... That is how the idea for the script came to me.

The hero of the film is small boy Sanya (played by seven-year-old Misha Philipchuk), and we see the thief Tolyan through his eyes. Tolyan is the first man who comes into the life of Sanya's family, because Sanya, like many other postwar children, has never seen his father. The boy is both afraid of and attracted to Tolyan's aura of power and authority: Tolyan is rough with Sanya's mother, rigid with Sanya, but he can protect them and take care of any problem. And as the embodiment of any power and authority figure, the boy loves and hates Tolyan at the same time. This inner conflict becomes Sanya's central drama which will haunt him all his life.

I made the film about the childhood of the generation which influences upon the country's current life. For me it was important to comprehend and explain how and why the post-war generation has grown up as it has, and not in another way. And it seems to me I man-aged to do that ...

I confess to you every time I watch the film rushes, I worry about my heroes, and I really hope that the viewers will not be indifferent to them and their fates, either.

Director's Biography

Film director and sceenwriter Pavel Chukhrai was born on 14 October 1946 in Moscow.
He graduated from VGIK (All-Union State Institute of Cinematography): in 1971 - from the cameraman's department, and in 1974 - from the director's department
He began his film career as a cameraman assistant, a director of photography, then a feature film director. Wrote a number of scripts including WHO WILL PAY FOR THE FORTUNE (directed by Konstantin Khudyakov) and TANGO-BILLIARD (directed by Georgy Shengelia).

Cast & Crew

Directed by: Pavel Chukhrai

Written by: Pavel Chukhrai

Produced by: Igor Tolstunov

Cinematography: Vladimir Klimov

Editing: Marina Dobryanskaya, Natalia Kucherenko

Production Design: Viktor Petrov

Costume Design: Natalia Moneva

Make-Up & Hair: Nina Kolodkina

Original Score: Vladimir Dashkevich

Sound: Yulia Egorova

Cast: Vladimir Mashkov (Tolyan), Ekatarina Rednlkova (Katya), Mlsha Phillpchuk (Sanya)

Nominations and Awards

  • European Film 1997