BLUE SKY, VIRGIN EARTH. In the opening shot of Jiri Menzel's latest film, The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin, the camera soars high above a pastoral horizon. Farmland, forests, and an idyllic Russian village stand hundreds of feet below. As summer air rushes past, we come closer and closer to land, until the surface becomes a composite of innumerable details. The serenity of distance gives way to the dust and grit of the world at eye level. Now life must take its course.

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