Another film that shows its roots in the great Soviet cinema tradition, "Mysterium Occupation" combines great visual flair with visceral realism. Title probably makes more sense in director Andrei Kudinenko's native Belarus, though the film certainly gives rise to jarring and indescribable emotions.

Another film that shows its roots in the great Soviet cinema tradition, “Mysterium Occupation” combines great visual flair with visceral realism. Title probably makes more sense in director Andrei Kudinenko’s native Belarus, though the film certainly gives rise to jarring and indescribable emotions. Like Elem Klimov’s 1985 classic “Come and See” (and Alexei German Jr.’s recent “The Last Train”), the young helmer uses partisan fighting during WWII as a backdrop for stories that explore the human character under stress. This striking debut should circulate quite a bit through fests and may pick up a few niche sales in the process.

In 1942, the Germans have occupied Belarus; at the same time, the civilian population is prey to ruthless Communist partisans sent from Moscow. Everyone is forced to take sides, and their choices often spells life or death.

Film’s first episode, “Adam and Eve,” is coyly titled Chapter 3, though chronological order is unimportant. Nice country boy Adam is forcibly inducted into a partisan band bivouacking in the snowbound wilderness. His sadistic abductor takes him to visit a local man who has run away from the band and is to be punished. While the others are drinking, Eve, a young Polish woman living with the deserter, seduces Adam in the cellar and precipitates his own early defection from the band. Among all the disturbing elements in this tale, the misogyny surrounding the Eve character could easily have been avoided.

In “Mother,” a sturdy peasant woman living in the woods buries her little boy after he is killed in an accident. Mute, and possibly traumatized by the shock, she takes a wounded German soldier in and nurses him with her own milk as though he were her son.

“Father,” or Chapter 1, brings back some of the characters to close the circle. A little boy is tricked into betraying his mother and her lover by a partisan posing as his long-lost father. The poignancy of this third tragedy reverberates back through the film, as the original evil partisan sets off to conscript Adam.

Kudinenko and his talented cameraman Pavel Zubritsky create a breath-taking end-of-the-world scenario in stylized DV. Andrei Volkov’s electronic score is excitingly modern and edgy.

Mysterium Occupation

Belarus

Production

A Navigator Studio production. (International sales: UP Extrans, Minsk, Belarus.) Produced by Aleksander Debalyuk. Directed by Andrei Kudinenko. Screenplay, Aleksander Katchan.

Crew

Camera (color), Pavel Zubritsky; music, Andrei Volkov; production designer, Anton Gvozdikov. Reviewed at Rotterdam Film Festival (Hubert Bals Fund), Jan. 24, 2004. Running time: 88 MIN.

With

Aleksander Kolbyshev, Anatoly Kot, Aleksander Mokchanov, Svetlana Zelenkovskaya, Lyubov Rumyantseva, Igor Denisov, Elena Sidorova, Andrei Kureichick, Ivan Shetko.

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