Elem Klimov's film, written by by Alex Adamovich, is sort of a Russian response to Gunter Grass's "The Tin Drum." A teenage boy living in Belarus is caught up in WWII battles, after joining the partisans. What he comes to see, from the opening scene of children digging amongst corpses on a battlefield to the final massacre of an entire village by German troops and SS men, is unrelenting horror and suffering.
It is a hard film to watch, and very long, but I recommend it as a way to understand Russia and its experience during the Second World War--and why it is etched in the soul of Russians still today. That Belarus was historically home to some of the largest Jewish population in Europe, completely wiped out by the Nazis, is alluded to in the film, as well. Perhaps, in this light Klimov's film carries another significance, as a way of understanding what it means when the leaders of one nation say they want to "wipe off the map" the people of another nation. It is something that Russians and Jews understand. Hitler's goal of lebensraum targeted first Jews, then Slavs. The film depicts how German farmers lived in homes belonging to massacred families of Belarus.
Klimov's style is jarring, expressionistic, and nightmarish. His concluding images of Hitler as a small boy, held in his mother's arms, clearly from family photos, are haunting.
A viewer realizes: Osama Bin Laden was once a small boy, too...