There are some movies that are so distinct and out of the ordinary that they stay with you. In this category I would put some of the Coen Brother’s movies, such as “Fargo,” and “No country for old men.” Such a movie is “Child 44,” a British-American production released in 2015, that takes place unusually in Soviet Russia during the Stalin period. The plot of this movie is based on an actual serial killer who murdered and mutilated ca. 56 children and adults between 1978 and 1990. At that time it was unacceptable to have murders committed in the Soviet “paradise.” All murders were supposed to result from capitalist society, so it was not allowed to investigate murders in the normal way as we understand them. Since the bodies of the children were usually found near the railway tracks over a length of several hundred miles, their deaths were usually attributed to “train accidents.”
But, according to this fictional story based on the 2008 novel with the same name by Tom Rob Smith, a persistent member of the Security Services (KGB or later MGB) decided that all these deaths of children could not be accidents, and so he started to investigate them, for which he was demoted. The rest of the story is dramatized and told in a gritty way, showing how people were arrested for the merest suspicion or for no reason at all. Anyone could be arrested and once arrested were tortured and then executed or transported to Siberia. The reality of Stalinist Russia is captured well in this movie. However, it lacks clarity, is often very dark and the Russian accents make it difficult to follow.
The actual story of the serial killer was dramatized in a movie for TV entitled “Citizen X” based on the book “The Killer Department” by Robert Cullen. In fact, this was a section of the Moscow police that dealt with murders, and the detective Lieut. Viktor Burakov was in charge of this case. With the help of Col. Mikhail Fetisov, they eventually traced the culprit to Rostov-on-Don, where his work allowed him to travel by railway and that was how he picked up and murdered so many people. His name was Andrei Chikatilo, and he initially escaped detection because he was a model member of the Communist party.
In the movie “Child 44” the ostensible reason for the murders were attributed to the famine in the Ukraine in 1932-33 that was deliberately caused by Stalin, whose troops and militias stole all the food, grain and animals to send to Russia. It is known that during the famine that caused the death of ca. 5 million people or 20% of the Ukrainian population, there were many who resorted to cannibalism. But, in fact, the real reason for the serial killings was sexual. The murderer was in fact impotent and found satisfaction only in killing. The lack of recognition of such crimes in the Soviet Union was what allowed Chikitilo, who was executed in 1994, to keep murdering for so long.