Come and See (1985)

March 27th, 2023
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Elem Klimov | Cast: Alexei Kravchenko, Olga Mironova | USSR War epic, 149′

Once described by J G Ballard as the greatest war movie ever made, this 1943-set World War II epic, from Soviet director Elem Klimov, is certainly the most devastating serving as a metaphor for the ongoing and needless destruction wreaked by one human being on another. In this case Nazi Germany is the aggressor invading Belarus, then part of the Soviet Union.

Both poetic and realist, Klimov’s chronicle sees a fresh-faced young peasant boy reduced to an emotional wreck after he unearths a rifle on the beach and prepares, gleefully, to join the Soviet resistance movement against the occupying troops. Flyora, played by Alexei Kravchenko, is just another example of a soldier who starts out with glorious intentions and ends up broken and disillusioned in what poet Wilfred Owen described as ‘the pity of war’.

Early scenes capture a rural idyll where Flyora is pictured mucking about with his friend and then returning home to his mother and sisters before being conscripted into the resistance effort. A luminous Tarkovskian interlude in a pine forest introduces him to love in the shape Glasha (Olga Miranova) but their brief paradise turns to inferno after a rocket bombardment from a Nazi war plane bombards the couple and the crane that befriends them, deafening Flyora in the process. The two return home to find their village has been routed and the family killed, but Flyora is unable to engage with the reality of the images before him, captured on the wide-screen and in static close-ups of the boy’s increasingly incredulous expression by Sally Potter’s regular DoP Aleksey Rodionov (who would go on the photograph Orlando, The Party and Yes).

The remainder of the film follows Flyora as he struggles to survive against the odds, and depicts some of the most horrifying – and saddening – scenes ever recorded where the German soldiers inflict terrible pain on innocent farming communities and their animals. By now the boy has lost his mind in the mayhem, and is then thrust into a surreal sequence intercut with original Hitler-related footage contextualising the episode into stark reality and picturing Flyora re-united with his rifle and shooting maniacally at the German troops’ photographic trophy of the Nazi leader seen abandoned in the mud. MT

628 Belorussian villages were burnt down during the Nazi invasion 1941-44.


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