By: Hayden Fitzsimons
The World Wars are a subject in film and media which has been done to death and beaten beyond recognition. However, within all of the schlock and reasonably good war movies, there is one particular film that stands above the rest. That film is the 1985 masterpiece, directed by Elem Klimov, ‘Come and See.’ Elem Klimov set out to depict war to the realest degree that he could, along with Belarusian cinematographer Aleksei Rodionov. Both experienced the Second World War firsthand, Rodionov in particular who fought against the Nazis whilst he was still a teen.
‘Come and See’ follows Florya, a young teen, as he excitedly joins the Russian revolution against the Nazis. Florya is left behind by the revolutionaries, and he is heartbroken. Florya returns to his village following an attack on the revolutionaries’ base with his newfound friend Glosha. When he returns to his village, Byelorussia, they find the village to be empty.
From this point forth, the film transforms from a somewhat tense and emotional romp to one of the darkest and realistic depictions of war to ever be made. The viewer accompanies Florya as he witnesses the pure evil of the Nazis, and their conspirators, against innocent men, women, and children.
Florya turns from a cheerful & optimistic child, who wants to do nothing more than fight for his people, to an aged and decrepit husk of his former self after watching all those around him die in extremely brutal fashion. Not only was what Florya saw some of the cruelest horrors one could see, they are all depictions of reality. All the events of massacre in the film were truly committed by the Nazi forces, and that is what makes the film absolutely destructive to one’s psyche.
However, the grueling and realistic story is not enough without the proper film elements to support it. Fortunately, ‘Come and See’ has masterful execution of every factor in film in spades. The cinematography, especially for being an 80s Russian movie, is top notch.
Head-on shots of characters are a repeated motif throughout the film. These shots have the characters often looking directly at the camera, and are an excellent way to dig into the viewer’s psyche as well as depict deep emotions without the need for dialogue.
The cinematography also includes views that are often behind the characters, as if they are constantly being stalked.
In addition to these, many of the shots are long, winding, tedious sequences that continually feed into the next shot after the next after the next. There are nearly no breaks, no moments of calm. It is a constant deluge of pain and suffering, with no end in sight.
The sound design is also incredible, rivaling that of many films which have come out decades later. This sound design accompanies incredibly with the long arduous shots at creating a film that feels intensely real and difficult to watch, yet still terribly hard to look away from.
‘Come and See’ is real. No, it doesn’t follow real characters or a real life story, however what happens in the film is still real. Innocent people were massacred in the millions by Nazi forces. Their methods of murder are real, and truly horrific. Everything presented in the film, the viewer knows to be true, even if it is just a fictional depiction.
Once all is said and done, there is still no resolution. No solace, no victory, no optimism, no release, nothing. ‘Come and See’ only lets the viewer feel pain, a pain they know to have been real.
I believe ‘Come and See’ is the best war movie to ever be made. This film should be seen by all, as it is one of the closest ways to see true evil without truly seeing it happen. However, the film is extremely brutal, intense, and realistic. It is not for the faint of heart, but it still is for everyone. ‘Come and See’ is a depiction of the true evil that lies within humanity. If we were to live in a world without pieces of art such as this film, we may then live in a world devoid of understanding, devoid of hope, and devoid of resistance to evil.