The following article was published in N-SPHERE November 2010 issue.


From its title – Come and See – Elem Klimov’s last and most notable film – may sound like an invitation of sorts, but it may turn out to be one which many casual viewers would wish they had sidestepped after having fully experienced it.

The film offers an incursion into a place where the deepest terror meets the most depraved side of human nature. There is no relief, no forgiveness and no happy ending, and there may not even be a message either. Come and See is not a movie “about something”, but it is a movie depicting something. And given its form (anti–war movie), there aren’t many things to say either. War is well–known, and it has been known for ages, but it was only experienced by those in the battlefield. Maybe one single truth is relevant – that all wars were started and fueled by the few, and yet unleashed upon the many, like some many other things in society.

However, the film barely touches upon that. It is something that comes along the way and fits perfectly with the atrocities that the viewer witnesses. Yet, Come and See is not solely about the horrors of war, they only play a part in the film’s game, because yes, as odd or sinister as this may seem, this is more like a game – if you can picture a morbid game played by a wounded child in her last minutes of life. Which brings us close to one of the reasons why this film is unique: its protagonist, a 13–14 year old peasant boy named Florya, whom, in spite of his mother’s protests, joins the partisans, only to be left behind by them. We either see brave children or victims or we rarely notice a mix between willingness and helplessness, between his prompt decision to fight with the partisans and his overall unarticulated way of being. Of course these are things that can easily coexist, but in this particular context form an unique mix.

There is a scene where Florya meets a young girl (Glascha) – right after he is left behind by the partisans – a scene which has a sweet and tender touch, but it remains at the same time haunting and – why not – disturbing. It describes very well the movie’s approach. While most war films these days rely on explosions, dying comrades and some corny love–story (Pearl Harbor is a good, yet tedious example in this sense), this one displays atrocities in a poetic and haunting manner while still being very realistic. Even when the climax of Klimov’s imagery reaches a nightmarish exaggeration, it is hard to perceive it like that. Because when you are there, you feel it, it may not be there, but you feel it and see it even.

There is very little significant dialogue in this film, because such films do not need dialogue – on the contrary, a solid dialogue pattern may get in the way, it may weaken the material. There are not many things left unsaid, not many lines one can come up with that would not have the “already used a thousand times” tag upon them. Besides, we may know what the characters are thinking; it is easy to figure that one out. There are only the lingering images, the sounds and that is enough. War does not encourage a talkative behaviour either, it is more about submission than it is about negotiation: the submission of the many to the desires of the few, however hopelessly or ridiculous they may be. Or, from a victim’s perspective, it is about doing everything you can to defend what someone else wants to take from you.

There are no real heroes in wars and this is why the film doesn’t focus on them. Or even if there are, they wouldn’t be in full focus either, their grief will be enough burden to allow wasting time with such vanities.

However, in spite of all these, the film itself is less a depiction of war and its atrocities than it is a depiction of the animal nature in people. It is a known fact that, when allowed, people may act in a barbaric manner, leaving aside their beloved ethical code. An example of this is the scene in which the prisoners were told that “Germany is a civilised country” and that each and every one should have a brush when they are deported there. However, the German soldiers’ actions seem to dictate otherwise. There is a nearly overwhelming tendency to conquer and destroy, and during wars the social context preventing such atrocities to happen is absent. At the same time, there is also a childish, yet effective motivation: you do whatever is necessary for your country. There is no bigger lie than this, because a country does not make such demands, however some of its people do, to fulfill their delusions of power.

Come and See is a film that leaves no hope, gives us no reward for witnessing its atrocities, but I find this to be the best approach when it comes to such things. For there were countless movies that used violence as a selling point (and maybe countless others will come), and once in a while it is good to have a film that does not try to make such horrors entertaining, but instead depict them in an honest and uncompromising way.

Having said this, viddie well, comrades!

Movie still: Come and See. 1985.

by Shade

Full article here.