Once you've seen this 1985 movie by Elem Klimov, you'll never be able to forget it. The reasons for this are to be seen both in the aesthetic quality of the realisation of the script, to which Ales Adamovich contributed as well as the director, and in the extraordinary sujet, the brutal elimination of a Belorussian village and its inhabitants at the hands of the SS in 1943, something that happened to 628 villages in Belarus alone between 1941 and 1944.
Partisan warfare behind the frontlines forms the background of this profoundly shocking and deeply moving drama. The pubescent protagonist of the movie, the 14 year-old Flyora, against the will of his mother stubbornly and somewhat naively insists to be allowed to join the ranks of the Soviet partisans operating from the relative security of the impenetrable woods in the area of his native village. The partisans, however, don't think young Flyora to be of much use, and therefore give him only minor tasks like standing on guard. At the partisan encampment he meets Glasha, a girl romantically linked with Kasatch, the leader of the partisan unit. In the course of the film, the almost extra-terrestrial beauty of the girl sharply contrasts with the ever-increasing brutalities of war. After an air raid on the partisan camp, Flyora and Glasha decide to make it for the boy's nearby home village. However, the villagers have all been executed, quite likely because despite all precautions it must have become known to the German occupiers that a boy from the village had joined the guerilla forces. Their bodies can be seen for the fraction of a second piled up like culled cattle behind a wooden house.
Flyora feels guilty for what happened and heads back to his fellow partisans, leaving behind Glasha. Shortly after that, the boy tries to steal a cow from another village in order to support his unit, yet Flyora is spotted by the German troops that happen to be in the place at the same time. With difficulty, Flyora manages to escape and to disguise himself as an innocent farmboy, but his actions trigger off an unimaginable act of revenge on the part of the SS men.
The following part of the movie will definitely make some viewers TURN OFF their TVs, as it realistically depicts in great detail the slaughtering of the village people by sadistic and partly intoxicated SS troops going on about their deadly 'business' in what seems to be unscrupulous routine fashion, standard procedure. At the same time, the movie's aesthetic foundation undergoes a radical change: After the poetic, neo-expressionistic start to the movie which in many respects like its heavy symbolism is typical of 1970s and 1980s Soviet art cinema, the director switches to a purely naturalistic mode of presentation which lets the horrible facts speak for themselves. Those who manage to endure this part of the movie right to the end at least are rewarded with the almost cathartic arrest and subsequent execution of the SS unit's leaders and their Belorussian accomplices responsible for these horrific atrocities. At the end, it becomes clear that the experiences of the boy have deeply etched themselves into his soul and his face, which is disfigured by wrinkles making him look like an old man by the end of the movie.
All in all, this is a true masterpiece which delineates the dreadful historical truth in an adequate artistic fashion bare of propagandistic tendencies.