Three Days and Never Again

The haunting story of a Russian soldier condemned to life imprisonment for a crime of passion.

Three Days and Never Again Two weeks before the end of his national service, Alexander Birgukov shot and killed his two commanding officers. He was sentenced to death. But when it was alleged that one of his victims had sexually harassed him, President Boris Yeltsin commuted his death sentence to a lifetime in prison. Tenderly revealing two lives lived in limbo, this film bears witness to the first and final visit of his mother, Lubyov. Incarcerated in an isolated monastery prison entirely surrounded by water, an uncertain past is recalled and contrasted to a future of unending certainty.
"On the first day of the trial I heard that Sasha was a dangerous criminal," recalls Lyubov Biryukova in disbelief. "I can't believe that. That's not how I brought him up." Since Alexander was imprisoned, Lyubov's life has been on hold. "I avoid everyone we know. I don't call around - they all ask where's Sasha?" she confides.

She hasn't seen her son for eight years. Now, sacrificing the last of her merger savings from a pension she can barely live on, she makes a onetime journey across Russia to visit her only child in prison. "What ever he's done, I won't desert him," Lyubov explains. A shy young man condemned to spend the rest on his life incarnated, Alexander Biryukova stoically accepts his fate.

As much a mother's story as the son's, this painfully intimate scene of a family reunited is one dominated by incomprehension and grief. Touching and caressing with startling candour, Alexander and Lubyov share memories as well as impossible, alternate scenarios. "I wonder if your father had been alive, would you have done what you did?" The answers, like the possibility of reprieve, are forever lost in the past. "Life can only be what it is" replies Alexander.

Yet, contrasted against this touching portrait is the indisputable violence of the killings. One burst of machine gun fire disposed of an officer resting on camp bed. A second murdered the lieutenant waiting outside. Two more rounds ensured their silence. Only then did Alexander flee the scene, stealing a pistol as he went, apparently with the intention of killing himself. "I can't believe he would do this," laments his mother. "What came over you Sasha? Can you explain it?"

Condemned by his actions and left with an interminable time to think, Alexander emerges as an individual imprisoned by both concrete and his own questioning. In prison is there any way life can recover meaning? After his mother has left - unable to return because of her tiny pension and the prison's distant location - doubt will be his only companion. "Perhaps there really is something wrong with me...look at the way my life has turned out."

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