Come and See (1985)
Director: Elem Klimov
Writers: Elem Klimov and Ales Adamovich
Starring: Aleksey Kravchenko, Olga Mironova and Liubomiras Lauciavicius

The Plot: Come and See tells the story of a young boy named Florya (Aleksei Kravchenko) who in 1943 is drafted into the military of Belarus in order to fight in the second World War. The young boy pines for warfare and hopes to become a great hero, but when he arrives at the forest base-of-operations he is left behind by the commander Kosach in order to look after the camp. He soon finds Glasha, a beautiful young girl who is in love with Kosach, and the two share their grief about being left alone and are soon enough spending a great deal of time together. What seems to be the start of a romance is quickly distinguished when German paratroopers and heavy artillery starts crashing down around them. Florya is deafened by the artillery rounds crashing around him, but the two children are able to escape and quickly run back to Florya’s village. Once they arrive they find that the war has spread throughout their small country and the stench of death now dominates everything.

The Review
Come and See isn’t so much an exploration of the tragedies of warfare as it is an opportunity to crawl inside of the mind of human being torn apart. It just so happens that the trauma is inflicted due to the immense horrors of warfare. With our lead character Florya we are shown at first the optimistic glory-seeking view of battle from a youth’s perspective, but as the film progresses we quickly see the real life trauma of such a situation. While this concept is anything but new, the way in which director Elem Klimov manages to throw us into the film via a near-first-person-perspective is something not often seen in war-cinema. Certainly in 1985 it would be hard to find another film dealing with the topic of “war” that could come close to this level of realism. Come and See puts the human element inside of this war film and crafts something so heart-breaking that it has the capability of mentally scarring its audience for the remainder of their days. You cannot and will not forget a film such as this one.

Although Sean Penn describes the film as one of the very best anti-war films of all time, I think simply lumping Come and See into that category is a bit unfair. It’s because the term “anti-war film” brings to mind any number of Vietnam based pictures that tried to follow along with Apocalypse Now and ultimately created a pattern that would unfortunately become the standard. Come and See may feature many aspects to it that have been covered before in films previously, but it’s a feature that never casts itself as being a copy of any other film. Come and See is a survivalist tale about the nightmares of war, but through its beautiful use of steadicam and the brilliant performances from the main cast – it manages to be more than just that. While watching you are absorbed into the environment, you fear for the innocents who will perish and a knot is developed in the lower part of your gut. Things will turn out bad and we know this, but we still hold out hope… and that is where director Klimov really gets us. That hope for sympathy that manages to go unfulfilled keeps the audience tuned in for what may be the most harrowing 150 minutes that they could have ever imagined.

You can only say “war is hell” so many times before it loses its punch. Saving Private Ryan showed us the gritty realism of combat and even though it had a more digestible message and theme than Come and See, both films make their point in brutal but honest ways. Come and See isn’t the four hour torture-fest that Philosophy of a Knife was, thankfully, and it doesn’t feature a great deal of onscreen violence, but the ever-imposing threat of violence and the unmerciful and faceless destruction of war creates an atmosphere of chaos and violence throughout the entire picture. It is for this reason that you will often see it landing on any number of “most disturbing” lists out there. However, this is certainly a film that doesn’t rely heavily on nastiness, but instead looks to do a service in providing both a voice for those affected by the inhuman tragedies committed at the behest of the German war machine during the second world war, as well as all who have been effected by the destructive aftermath of war in general.

There is another side to Come and See however that will certainly leave some upset from an entirely different position than just those who are offended by the disturbing content. There is no question that the film is rather unfair to the German people, as it at no point ever tries to give a differing perspective on the German population other than that they are all inhuman monsters. After the film, its easy to imagine those who are easily persuaded feeling a new animosity for the German people. Yet, part of my respect for the film comes from the fact that it doesn’t dare attempt to play up to the politically correct viewpoint that only the highest echelon of the German military were actually members of the Nazi party. Still, the monstrous portrayal of the soldiers in the film certainly reflects the anger that this film comes from. In sequences such as the much-talked-about burning-of-the-church, the villains are broadly drawn in such a way that they can no longer be considered human. They are laughing beasts drunk from blood and carnage. Even though there were likely Germans who were more reserved than this, hated the situation that they were in and quite simply had their hands forced in order to commit these atrocities… Come and See comes from the direct focuses of a young boy who has everything taken from him and in his eyes: no one committing these acts are without sin. His world isn’t a polite or genteel place and ultimately neither is this film.

The Conclusion
A startling, horrifying and brilliantly crafted piece of cinema… Come and See blew me away. If you have any interest in war on film, then this is a must see. However, it isn’t a polite or particularly “nice” movie, so be prepared. I give it our highest award, a five out of five. Definitely a must see piece of film.