Here is a review from NYT from 1967 when it was nominated for Best foreign film at Academy Awards:
War’s utter bestiality and waste, usually illustrated by armies, is brought into sharp focus by a talented few in “Three,” a prize-winning Yugoslav drama that treats its bleak and harrowing subject with a grim but poetic artistry. It had a showing at the New York Film Festival last year, and is now at the Studio Cinema and 72d Street Theaters. The film is mystifyingly abrupt in its transitions, but its effects, physical and intellectual, are unmistakably forceful and chilling.
The director, Aleksandar Petrovic, with the aid of a sparse script and stunning photography by Tomislav Pinter, has pointed up war’s ravages as it affects one partisan’s fights in one small sector of the conflict. In each of three events he is part of, needless death brought about by fear, despair and defeat. In the opening sequence, as one of a milling village crowd seeking to escape by train from the approaching Nazis, he witnessed the shooting of an innocent man on suspicion by nervous Yugoslav soldiers.
Here is a transcript from Daniel Goulding’s book ‘Liberated cinema’:
The film Three catapulted A. Petrovic to the first rank of Yugoslav film directors and won wide international acclaim. It presented a concrete intimate phsychological portrait of an ordinary partisan warior caught in the matrix of confused and morally ambiguous events. The protagonist is not so much the author of his actions as he is carried along in the sweep and tide of historical evnets and concrete human dilemmas. His impulse is to intervene and to prevent three senseless and cruel deaths in the film. He ends by being a reluctant, helpless and despairing witness.
The simple events of the film are shot with remarkable economy and richness of visual detail. Metaphor is introduced naturally and unobtrusively. The herding and scattering of the gaggle of geese in the first episode is an effective metaphor for the herdlike behaviour and panic of the assembled crowd on the train platform. The lone Gipsy and his bear, left behind to wander along the empty tracks, are exotic and poignant symbols of isolation and of the outcasts and vagabonds of war. The town fool symbolizes the insanity and scourge of war – and evokes, even in his madness, the fearful authority of an Old Testament prophet.
The terrible exactions of guerrilla war fought against forbidding odds are prehaps never better captured than in the middle episode of the film. It echoes the framewark established by official historians of the Partisan war, who divide it into seven major offensives in which superior enemy forces attempted to encircle and annihilate Tito’s main forces. Each time the ring was broken, and, after suffering terrible losses, the Partisan regrouped, grew in strenght and fought again. In the film, the metaphor of encirclement is evoked in miniature and in concrete human detail as the German patrol closes in on Milos and his comrade in the tall marsh grasses, and again when German patrol surrounds and riddles the burning hut with bullets. Harsh and relentless pursuit, complete mastery of the skies and superior armaments and numbers test the limits of human endurance and take their tragic toll – the cruel death of one Partisan and the agony and despair of the survivor. There are no false heroics, no set little speeches, no attempts to minimize or restrict the full range of human emotions and reactions to such brutal circumstances.
In the final episode of the film, peaceful bucolic images of traditional Yugoslav rural life symbolize the return to normalcy and revitalization. These processes are disturbed, however, by the continuing reprisals of war – symbolized most poignantly by the harsh and perfunctroy execution of the young woman.