Vladimir Ivashov received a prize at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival for his remarkable performance in the lead role in Grigory Chukhrai's film Ballad of a Soldier, in which he plays Alesha Skvortosov, a young soldier returning for a brief leave to see his mother during the Second World War. Ivashov was 19 years old and a first-year student at the veteran film director Mikhail Romm's studio at the lite film school VGIK in Moscow when Chukhrai chose him for the part.
Chukhrai scripted it with Valentin Yexhov. Both had been young soldiers at the front and Chukhrai had wanted for a long time to base a film on his experiences. After his first feature film, The Forty First, received a special prize at the 1957 Cannes Film Festival, Chukhrai was in a position to make his film.
Ivashov's performance as Alesha, opposite Xhanna Bolotova, a fellow student at VGIK, playing Shura, with whom he falls in love, was so striking that the film was a sensation in the Soviet Union. When it was released early in 1959 thousands of Muscovites queued to see it at the Udarnik cinema. For the first time, Russians saw a truthful and tragic film about the Second World War without any aggressive nationalistic overtones or the glorification of Stalin and Communism.The film authorities of course meant Chukhrai to make a different film. Even under Brezhnev such a personal representation of the war would not have been allowed.
Ivashov became a star overnight. He received bags of letters from young girls who wanted to meet him. The film was picked by the Cannes Selection Committee as the 1959 official Soviet entry and won a prize. The international reception of the film by critics and the public was ecstatic. Ivashov, Zhanna Bolotova and Chukhrai went on a short tour of South America where the film received several local prizes.
In 1960 the film won the first prize at the Moscow International Film Festival. In 1961 it received the Lenin (formerly Stalin) Prize, recognition from the Soviet leadership, headed by Nikita Khrushchev, who kept a copy of the film at the Kremlin film hall for foreign guests. Ivashov graduated from VGIK in 1963 and was deluged with offers. He appeared in several films including Clouds Over Borsk (1961), The Seven Nurses (1962), An Aunt With Violets (1964): all insignificant comedies and none known in the West.
But he left another memorable performance in the lead role of Pechorin, the film directed by Stanislav Rostotski (1967), based on Mikhail Lermontov's Hero of Our Time, in which he plays an aristocratic Russian officer desired by many high-society women. In 1976 he appeared in two films, Diamonds for Proletarian Dictatorship and When September Comes.
During the Seventies and Eighties Ivashov was virtually forgotten. He never repeated his early success. But Ballad of a Soldier was recently re-released in Moscow and its quality stands out against the hundreds of cheap American films which have now flooded Moscow cinemas.