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September 22, 2006

Come and See


Idi i Smotri
Elem Klimov - 1985
Kino Video Region 1 DVD

Campaspe, the Self-Styled Siren had an interesting post at Cinemarati. Just as some of us have gotten through various forms of higher education without actually reading some of the classics of Western literature, so there are those film critics, historians, bloggers, etc., who have gaps in seeing certain films, and in some cases whole filmographies of some directors. Titles from IMDb's top 250 that I have not seen more than part of would be Grave of the Fireflies and Harvey. For the first, while I recognize the artistry of Japanese anime, I still find the films put me to sleep, while with Harvey, I don't find drunks amusing, with or without invisible six foot tall rabbits. I also have not been able to rouse myself to see Sling Blade because I dislike Miramax's sentimental man and boy love stories on general principle. A title that popped up frequently in the comments was Come and See, currently ranking at #207 in IMDb's top 250.

As an examination of the horrors of war, Come and See is unrelenting. The film follows a boy, Florian, in his descent into hell. Enlisted to join the partisans of his village in Byelorussia in World War II, his mother is assured that "it will be like summer camp". Instead, Florian finds himself in a world of ever increasing violence and degradation. At the end of Come and See, titles appear explaining that the Germans burned 628 Byelorussian villages including the inhabitants. The Germans, who over a loudspeaker claim to the villages that they are civilized, prove to be the opposite in the extreme. In comparison, the portrayal of Nazi attrocities in a film like Schindler's List is timid and too polite.

While the film begins simply, seemingly a straight forward view of war from the point of view of children, Elem Klimov incorporates sound, and later, visuals, reflecting some of the subjective changes in Florian. Caught in a bombing of a forest, Florian temporarily becomes deaf. The soundtrack becomes a sonic montage of the ringing in his ears, Florian's garbled speech, and the barely heard words yelled at him. Seeing a girl dancing the Charleston during a quiet lull, we hear the music imagined by Florian. Near the end of Come and See, enraged over what he has endured and witnessed, Florian shoots a portrait of Hitler. With each shot is a montage of documentary footage run backwards, with Florian perhaps imagining what could have been prevented had he been able to kill Hitler. The sequence ends with Florian realizing that at a certain point in the past, one cannot predict the future.

Although a simple reading of Come and See would be anti-Nazi, Klimov's story should be understood to be more universal. Much of the horror is muted, seen from a distance, or suggested by the screams of unseen victims. As grim as Come and See is, the final images of the sky seen from the forest indicate a stubborn glimmer of hope and rebirth.

Posted by peter at September 22, 2006 05:01 PM


I am so jealous of you; I've been looking for this film for years (actually, there's a longish list of films I've been unsuccessfully looking for for years).

Posted by: tuwa at September 22, 2006 09:15 PM

What an astonishing film. I first saw it years ago and I recently saw it a second time when I introduced it to a projected-DVD-watching group I'm part of. Touched off quite a discussion afterward. I'm glad you were able to catch it.

I haven't seen the other three gaps in your list, and about a dozen other top-250 selections myself.

Posted by: Brian at September 25, 2006 03:36 AM

And I caught up with this one finally. Holy smokes, is it ever fantastic.

Posted by: tuwa at February 26, 2007 01:12 PM