Though Dmitri has a servant, money, and status as a member of the aristocratic elite(his family knows the Tsar personally), life in the border regions is a rustic affair. The village he takes up residence in is populated by farmers and soldiers, and the wild ways of the Cossacks are in every aspect of life. These are the Grebensk Cossack tribe, who settled the region by the Terek river in the northern Caucasus. The Grebensk Cossacks adopted the ways of the Chechen and Nogai peoples in the area, and though they kept the Russian language, they also have the spoken Nogai language, which is a Turkic language, called 'Tatar' in the film. Dmitri is taught the Tatar greeting "Koshkildi" upon his arrival, which I was pleasantly surprised to recognise as comparable to the Turkish "hoş geldi", meaning, "pleasant arrival".
This is exactly what our young idealist had been hungering for; fresh air, freedom, and a chance to grow and to prove himself. He takes up his post with relish. He finds lodging with a old cossack named Eroshka, called "Daddy Eroshka" by the villagers, and they immediately form a father/son-type bond. Daddy Eroshka takes up the task of acclimating Dmitri to Cossack life. Very soon the beautiful Muslim village girl Maryana comes into the picture, as well as her Cossack suitor, Lukashka. Maryana is considered the most beautiful (and inaccesible) girl in the village; headstrong, impetuous, sure of herself and her self-worth. Dmitri is immediately drawn to her, even as he works to form a strong friendship with the brave fighter Lukashka...it's this love-triangle that defines the character of the story.
I loved everything about this movie. Zinaida Kiriyeno is amazing as the stunningly beautiful Maryana, and Eduard Bredun(who reminds me of a young Orson Welles), gave an excellent performance as Lukashka. They, along with Boris Andreyev as the melancholic Daddy Eroshka, were so charismatic, yet none of them overshadowed the others. Leonid Gubanov, more than any other actor in this type of role, really brought a genuine sense of youth and romantic vision to this character. I've met many young people like him, who have yet to taste the realities of life in any firm way, who see the future as full of limitless possibility. I found myself both feeling somewhat paternal about his naivete, and perhaps a bit inspired by that hopeful spirit.
If you can find THE COSSACKS, and I hope that you can, prepare yourself for an experience equal to any of the equivalent Hollywood classics. I found myself wanting to watch it again, even as the final credits were rolling.