Ivan Got His Gun. Sam Fuller once declared that the only way for cinema to depict war authentically was to spray the audiences with real bullets, here's the next best thing. The setting is the Nazi devastation of Belarus, the Exodus and the Apocalypse are the main poles: The 12-year-old protagonist (Alexei Kravchenko) digs up a rifle and eagerly runs to join the partisans in the woods, Elem Klimov proceeds to wipe the smile off the wannabe warrior's face. Left behind, the boy spends an incongruous idyll with a forest nymph (Olga Mironova), complete with rainbows materializing out of morning rain; a squashed bird's nest sets the stage for the inferno, which is first glimpsed -- casually, mind-scarringly -- by the side of a cabin. Bombs and bottles rain from the sky, Klimov's Steadicam skims supernaturally pale meadows, a full menagerie (stork, cow, lemur, lobster) adds to the surrealism. The sound design is an assaultive combo of shrieks, moans, detonations, and the hum of a ruptured eardrum (with "selections by Mozart"), Kravchenko attempts to escape it by jamming his head into the mud ("Didn't I tell you not to dig," the living corpse asks). It builds to the barbarous spectacle of the villagers scratching at the walls as the church they've been crammed into is set ablaze by the raucous Germans, and to the boy's terror-wizened face as he's forced to pose with pistol to temple for a snapshot (the photographer takes his sweet time winding the camera). The youngster's gaze becomes its own camera, helplessly recording every horror in cinema's most draining vision of the Abyss. Brueghel, Guernica, Rousseau's La Guerre; Dovzhenko's frenzies are remembered (the gassed soldier's cackling in Arsenal), Kubrick's numb survivor "in a world of shit" is foreseen. The "revulsion of the mind and exhaustion of the spirit" Ernie Pyle wrote of are lent bludgeoning viscera by Klimov, who pointedly refuses to soothe trauma with catharsis -- Hitler is the grimacing slime effigy and the "liberator" portrait, but also the toddler perched on his mother's knee, daring you to bring your hatred to his level. Cinematography by Aleksei Radionov.
--- Fernando F. Croce