Come and See (Elem Klimov, 1985)

What could I possibly write?


…other than that the final Hitler montage was almost as self-indulgent and ill-advised as Chaplin’s big anti-fascism speech at the end of The Great Dictator.  But even then, while Chaplin’s speech was totally inappropriate in terms of that film’s comedic tone and the sheer impossibility of a meek Jewish barber being able to deliver a speech like that completely off the cuff, this Hitler montage somehow, at least somewhat fit in its own strange way, just because of how visceral and angry both it and the film as a whole are.  Still, it just doesn’t belong, especially given that it’s seemingly from the point of view of our hero, a young Belarussian boy experiencing the atrocities of the war in his own backyard and who’s thousands of miles away from Hitler himself.

That, and the absolute orgy of Jonathan Demme-esque facial closeups that dominates the first half of the film are essentially the only reasons why I’m not giving this a perfect 10/10.  This was a painful, disturbing, intense, and draining experience like few others, and through its use of sound and imagery and often first-person perspective puts other so-called ‘realistic’ anti-war films a la “Saving Private Ryan” to shame.  And the key is that it’s pretty much divided into two parts, the first of which is almost like a surrealist fairy tale, with the abundance of people looking wide-eyed into the camera (which I still take exception to) and talking a little flower-and-poetic-like, and our young hero Florya and his new friend Glasha wading through the depths of hell, complete with bodies, mud, and the sounds of bombs and deafness (tip: do not watch this film on a laptop, wearing earbuds).  There’s brutal realism here, sure, but that realism takes on an eerie, nightmarish tone when it’s almost exclusively from Florya’s point of view.  This first half of the film is almost exclusively about the after-effects of armed conflict, as we see bodies and people in shock, and the closest we come to actually facing the Nazi menace is through bombardments, the Nazis themselves thousands of feet in the air.

Initially, I did not like the abundance of earsplitting sound effects or surreal dialogue or long tracking shots of, say, Florya and Glasha, hysterical, wading their way through a swamp, and dismissed these as stylistic excesses.  That is, until the second half of the film, which I found to be different in style from the first half, yet exactly the same in despair-ridden tone.  While the first half was surreal and dreamlike, despite that realism, the second half is pure, bitter realism all the way, as Florya journeys to find food and supplies for the starving survivors of his home town and encounters one terrible situation after another, eventually finding himself in a small town being ravaged by the Nazis.  Suddenly, the up-‘til-now faceless Nazi menace gains a face, many parts of this segment in the town, almost a quarter of the film, are not from Florya’s point of view, allowing for more of that cruel realism, and what transpires has to be some of the most disturbing and painful stuff I’ve ever seen in a film, and whose raw power would only be spoiled if I tried to describe it here, so I won’t.  And suddenly, when it was all over, I gained a new appreciation for those stiff characters and their even stiffer dialogue, and that over-reliance on unsettling sound effects and odd images and fast-motion effects, in the first half that I had had a problem with.  Suddenly, the quasi-realism infused with the subjective fears and mindset of a young boy, and later the near-opposite, the objective realism of what the Nazis would do to a small town (just one of 628 Belarussian towns that received such treatment during the war, we’re told in an intertitle at the close of the film), combine into a singular whole, as both are equally proficient in presenting man’s inhumanity towards man (yes, the Belarussian freedom fighters don’t completely come off as the good to the Nazis’ evil here) and tying a knot of both anger and sadness in the viewer’s stomach.

Actually, I probably shouldn’t say ‘objective’ in describing the second half, as other than a late moment involving both the Nazis and the Belarussian fighters that’s as stomach-churning as any other, the Nazis really are portrayed as nothing more than inhuman monsters (hey, I don’t deny it…) and Belarussians the virtuous victims and freedom fighters (I don’t exactly deny that either…), which, along with that Hitler montage, is all about Klimov’s hatred of Hitler and, you could argue, is anything but objective (there’s a very good chance that after this movie is over, you’ll hate Germans more than you ever thought possible 😆 ).  Yeah, Klimov overplays his hand in transferring his own sentiments toward both Florya and the depiction of the world and people around him (tone it down, Klimov, no need to overdo it THAT much to convince the world that Hitler was bad.  It’s OK to hate Hitler, dude, the last thing we’ll ever do is hold it against you 😆 ), but it’s done with such power and conviction that you can’t not be affected.  Hell, Klimov’s use of Mozart’s Requiem to close the movie is probably heavy-handed and manipulative, but fuck it, it got to me, and I was practically in tears by the time the screen went black.  That ending, complete with the Mozart, is arguably just as bleak as what came before it, and yet somehow, that image is also hopeful, or at least as hopeful as you can get in a film like this.  Or maybe it was just me trying desperately to grasp for some kind of hope after hope had proven completely evasive for two and a half hours.  So turns out I was able to write a lot.  This movie gave me severe dry mouth.


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