Scriptwriter: Tatyana Sytina
Director: Yuriy Ozerov
Cast: Sergey Bondarchuk (voice-over), Leonid Kharitonov, Pyotr Konstantinov, Varvara Kargashova, Viktor Geraskin, Vladimir Belokurov, Nadezhda Rumyantseva
"Son" appeared on the screen during the 20th Party Congress, which debunked the cult of the Father-Leader - Stalin. It is unlikely that the release of the film was specifically timed to coincide with this event, but the coincidence is symbolic. Its plot is "initiation, Soviet-style": a high school student commits an antisocial offense; condemned by his father, an old worker, he leaves home, goes through a series of trials, and, having come out of them with credit, having become a full member of the labor collective, returns to the family home. The action is immersed in the “unadorned” reality of Moscow streets and courtyards. A living, fluid everyday life comes into conflict with the narrative scheme, destroying its unambiguity - which is what the film leadership reproached "Son" for. “We all wanted to make films differently. Sometimes we succeded <…>. My film "Son" is our neorealism, it is our life at the time, filmed with a candid camera”. (Kinofestival' “Belye Stolby” [Film Festival "Belye Stolby"]. M. 2014. S. 130.). No matter how unexpectedly such a confession sounds from the lips of Yuriy Ozerov, who is best remembered for his "fiction-documentary" epic "Liberation", it corresponds to reality. "Son" employs the poetics of neorealism almost defiantly. And Leonid Kharitonov looks as if was snatched out of the human stream on the streets at random.
However, Kharitonov stands out from the crowd due to his internal individual theme an innocent victim. In his very first films of 1953-54, which immediately brought the actor massive audience popularity - "School of Courage", "Soldier Ivan Brovkin" (“Private Ivan”) - the actions of his characters are often reckless and absurd, are severely condemned by those around him who are not aware of the reasons behind them (most often noble ones). In the eyes of his characters every now and then there is a sadness that cannot be imagined in other audience favorites of that time: Nikolay Rybnikov, Leonid Bykov, or Yuriy Belov. In fact, Kharitonov was the first to embody on the screen the type of the so-called “Rozov boys”, which became widspread later, at the turn of the 1950s–60s: the young and naive idealist rebels from the plays of one of the most popular playwrights of the Thaw period, Viktor Rozov. It is noteworthy that "Son" could have become the film debut of Oleg Tabakov, an ideal performer of the heroes of Rozov’s plays in theater and cinema. Tabakov’s screen tests in "Son" were thought successful, but the studio insisted on Kharitonov, who was already popular with the audience.
Contrary to the didactic pathos of the script, Andrey Goryaev, the main character of the film, constantly evokes our keen sympathy and, thereby, re-emphasizes the meaning of what is happening on the screen. The original rightness of the collective is again questioned here. Ultimately, it demonstrates indifference to the fate of the hero, either offering him a ceremony of purely formal repentance, or unhesitatingly believing the slanderous accusation raised against him.
Accordingly, the street crowd ceases to manage its role as the chorus, which it successfully performs both in Soviet cinema and in classical examples of neorealism. In the first scenes of “Son”, the neighbors in the yard with detached curiosity observe the almost ritual humiliating punishment to which Andrey's father publicly subjects his son. The crowd on the Moscow streets is similarly emphatically indifferent to the young man’s feelings.
In this context, the image of the father, one of the most vivid in the picture, also stops being unambiguous. The veteran proletarian in the Soviet canon clearly acts as a bearer of ideal moral experience. When Viktor Nekrasov writes about “Ilyich's Gate”: “I am infinitely grateful to Khutsiev and Shpalikov that they did not drag, onto the screen, by his graying mustache, an old worker, who understands everything and has a clear, straight answer to everything” (URL: https://imwerden.de/pdf/ novy_mir_1962_12__ocr.pdf) - this will be perceived by the authorities as an attck on sacred foundations. In “Son”, the moral rigorism of the character testifies to his certain limitations. (It is significant that this role is played here by Pyotr Konstantinov, an actor, so to speak, ambivalent - who appeared on the screen often and successfully in the 1950s both in the roles of veterans and their antipodes: nomenklatura bureaucrats.)
As a result, Kharitonov's sad and dreamy gaze begins to be seen as directed into some other space, another dimension. And then the presence of a circus theme that seems somewhat artificial for this script and of Andrey's unrequited love for a young acrobat turns out to be logical. Moreover, in the context of the director’s interest in Italian cinema, one can even see a parallel with Fellini's "The Road": a small circus performer and her rude giant partner, abusing and harassing her, begin to look like a light version of the story of Gelsomina and Zampano.