‘Shall I bring a shovel?’ When two men show up at his door, Sushenya (Vladimir Svirskiy) knows exactly what they’re there for. And truth is, he wants to die. This is Belarus in 1942 and Sushenya is a railroad worker. The Nazis have just hanged three of his colleagues for sabotaging train tracks, but they let Sushenya walk free. Now everyone – including his wife – thinks that he’s a rat.
Filmmakers have visited the German occupation of Belarus in World War II before. Elem Klimov’s nightmarish ‘Come and See’ (1985) is an almost unwatchably hellish portrait of war. Here, Belarussian writer-director Sergei Loznitsa is more concerned with the moral fog – the compromises and corrosion of souls. His film is slow burning and austere, with the conflict unfolding off screen. So, as the three men are hanged in a village square, Loznitsa rests his camera on a nearby cart stacked with animal bones. Scenes like this are as beautifully composed and classical as still-life paintings. This philosophical war film is impressive and thought provoking but it’s also too restrained and pensive to ever completely connect.