11 December 2001 | JAM-31
Possibly the definitive Russian front film
"Come and See" is bizarre, disturbing, and haunting. It is more moving and enlightening than all of the other (mostly disappointing) films I have seen depicting the Russian front in World War II. Strangely enough, the Red Army is entirely absent from the movie.
As a Russian film, it begins less conventionally than most films produced in the west. It starts off very surreal, and it is difficult at some points to understand what is going on or what certain characters are doing. This gives the theme a foreign and realistic feel. We follow the life of a peasant boy in Byleorussia in 1943, as he joins the partisans. Certain events involving his family and his introduction to the partisans (especially one involving a young girl) make his fight more personal. Strange interactions between characters and Director Elem Klimov's follow tracking shots dominate the film, and give it a unique method of storytelling. Then the nightmare begins.
The destruction of a Russian village is the horrific centerpiece of the story. It is brutally realistic, with more tracking shots that hold for long periods of time without cutting. We see the German Wehrmacht burn a barn loaded with civilians to the ground as these soldiers clap, smile, and embrace each other. The chaotic action involves many scenes that are sporadic (flames burning out of control, a German soldier accidently shoved into the barn house with the victims) and possibly improvised, which lend a great authenticity to the material. The images are unforgettable, and will stay with you long after you've seen the film. Klimov has succeeded in putting the viewer in the village. Surprisingly, despite coming out of the Soviet Union in 1985, "Come and See" never felt to me like propaganda. There was no communist rhetoric, and the heroes were all partisans, many of which were flawed. The Germans aren't caricatures at the same time they commit acts of evil, and view their actions in a banal way. When one of them defends the atrocities of his platoon, he states, "inferior races spread the microbes of communism." The character delivers this line not with fierce anger, but with nonchalance, as if it were common knowledge, not something that he needs to explain to anyone.
Some reviews have criticized the "afterthought," a rewind of the Nazi rise to power and invasion of Europe, as unnecessary. It may be, but it is still powerful. Other "flaws" people find with the movie are all characteristics of the director's style, therefore I don't find them flaws. "Come and See" is a great, very different, and very moving film. Grade: "A-"