Review: Turn Your Body to the Sun (2021)


Turn Your Body to the Sun (2021)

Directed by: Aliona van der Horst | 93 minutes | documentary

“Have I betrayed my homeland, or has my homeland betrayed me?” Those are the words of Sandar Valiulin, the father of the Dutch-Russian writer Sana Valiulina. In ‘Turn Your Body to the Sun’, Sana goes in search of the details of her father’s past, who spent years in a Stalin penal camp after World War II. Sandar was a man who said little about this difficult time and took a withdrawn attitude. What was going through his mind and how did he experience the hellish conditions in the Gulag?

Sana’s father was a soldier for Stalin’s Red Army. After he was captured by the Nazis and then extradited to the Soviet Union after the end of the war, he ended up in a penal camp of the peace dictator. Those who were arrested by the Nazis were seen as traitors to the Soviet Union. Sana and her sister Dinar delve into her father’s archive, which mainly consists of letters he wrote to their mother. This shows that the humble Sandar was a true poet who still managed to write beautiful letters despite being imprisoned. While a Russian voice-over reads these letters, impressive images of soldiers come into view. The shots are even professionally colored, which is very special and gives the images an extra dimension. Sana learns more and more about her father as she visits the places he describes in his letters. It’s the end of a mysterious chapter of Sandar’s life and the beginning of a new appreciation for him from Sana. Not only does Sana learn more about her father, but also about herself. By reading the letters, she reflects on the life questions that Sandar once formulated for herself. It becomes clear where Sana’s writing talent comes from.

For the first half hour, the documentary is still looking for exactly where it wants to go. What is the lesson that the audience can take from the film? Nevertheless, ‘Turn Your Body to the Sun’ is an important documentary for preserving newly restored images of the Second World War. The story is at times what a slow side. The way in which the old color images are presented, on the other hand, can certainly be praised. ‘Turn Your Body to the Sun’ is a beautiful quest for a hidden past that is now getting its place.