The following is one of the entries from my 100 Greatest Films from the Soviet Union, Russia, Ukraine and Eastern Europe list, which I invite you to visit on this site if you haven’t already done so. — Dennis
Byelosrussia, following the Nazi invasion. Partisans come for a 12-year-old recruit, Florya, in his shack, where his mother, a widow, has pleaded for him to kill her and his siblings if he is going to leave. Can a boy, though, resist the call of the Great Patriotic War? What the partisans want, however, is what Florya is required to bring with him: a gun. Florya is certain to be killed. No matter. He will leave behind the gun he worked so hard to dig up.
Only, Florya doesn’t get killed. He lives and witnesses the horrors of war. Unsentimental, Elem Klimov’s Idi i smotri is among the most powerful films about war.
Klimov moves desaturated colors into stunning near black and white; the carcass of a cow, a casualty of war, lies in a vacant field. Separated from his group, a solitary Florya passes the corpse that might have been his. His contorted face has lost its innocence. Its title from the Book of Revelation, Klimov’s masterpiece beckons us to look at what one of the twentieth century’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse has wrought. In stark, hallucinatory images, we along with Florya, his face transfixed in horror, witness the extermination of a mass of people. There are deep trenches in his brow. The village is torched. The air is filled with German cheers, shrieks of the burned-alive and, on the soundtrack, yodeling. German soldiers pose for a photograph, having grabbed Florya and put a gun to his head. On his knees, Florya, alone again, falls upon the ground, recalling the cow.
A black-and-white storm of reverse motion, highlighted by documentary footage of Adolf Hitler, marks Florya’s slide into the freezing of his humanity.
The Byelorussian holocaust: 628 villages burned, and all of the people in them.
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