Come and See (USSR, 1985, Elem Klimov)
First, welcome to Ben and my original review, written Jan. 20, 2010:
I did take your advice. Jacob and I watched Come and See Saturday night while Max was at a slumber party. I believe he could have handled it. I say this not to be a dickwad about you recommending that he not view the film. My purpose is to indicate that I did not find the film THAT powerful.
I'm not sure why. It may turn out that it takes a while to sink in. There is definitely a thicker aesthetic density to it than most films and this coupled with the sheer heaviness of the events depicted makes Come and See difficult to assimilate. It won't surprise me if down the road I ask to borrow it again in order to reflect on certain aspects of it, that the film will haunt me.
This possibility entertained, something about the overwhelming quality of the film was for me in the end affectively disfunctional. It is technically excessive. Perhaps the easiest way to convey my sense about it is to mention that I initially flashed on Tarkovsky's Mirror but this gave way to Tarr's Satantango. It's all just a bit too much. In particular, the soundtrack, a deeply disturbing multi-layered texture in its own right, over-powered the film's mise-en-scene. Indeed, my problem with the film may boil down to this, although the hyper-realism of the cinematography and the deep-mask acting are also candidates. I understand that the world becomes for the protagonist an almost surreal experience as he is taken to the very edge of his sanity by terror and we are submerged vicariously by the film into this mental maelstrom. Much of this interiority of the character is depicted by what we hear in the film juxtaposed against the barbaric carnival of the visual images that display the external world gone mad. The weight of all this is crushing to the point that eventually I started to experience the technique directly. That he literally ages right before our eyes and that his face takes on frozen registrations of the horror, this is already seriously strong theatre and the audio underneath it takes it to another level that finally felt like another level too much. Or was this intellectual flight on my part when confronted by emotionally unbearable art? Again, I entertain the possibility.
Thematically, I would have to propose that Come and See is a tremendous achievement and must be ranked among the best war films. One thing is for certain, it would make one hell of a provocative double bill with Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds. The all-important scene in Come and See when the boy finally shoots his gun, not at a flesh-and-blood person but at a photograph, not at any ol' person but THE symbol of the cause of the war and sign of evil, not to engage in what is actaully happening in the present but to prevent it from happening at all by running the film of history backwards... but ultimately not to fire at the face of the infant Hitler, not to be able to rewind real time, not to be able to escape from the here and now, not to be able to disengage from what is actually happening but to take political responsibility for your actions in the existential thick of it; and by association for the audience, not to be able to disengage from the facts of history - is not this all-important scene the radical antithesis of Tarantino's entire movie?
Title from comes from the Book of Revelations "And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth."
Based on the Nazi occupation of Beloruss in WWII, Come and See is one of the harshest movie experiences of my young (heh) life. That said, there was a point in the film's second half where I felt like I had been bludgeoned so thoroughly that there was nothing the film could do to me anymore. I don't think that this sort of desensitization quite works to the film's benefit, benumbed as I became to the horrors that surrounded the protagonist as the film reached its climax.
Despite these complaints, there is no doubt that Come and See is a real horror show, a film that takes us from youthful exuberance, as the teenaged Florya excitedly searches for guns so he can join in the fight, through disappointment, disillusionment, despair and, ultimately, disintegration. It is a helluva journey, told with with brutal bluntness and numbing, unflinching realism.
Some of the film's early scenes are almost a reverie, as teenage Florya's (Aleksei Kravchenko)
experiences with the Soviet partisans are weirdly reminscent of passages in Tarkovsky's Ivan's Childhood, particularly when Florya is left behind as a reserve and wanders the forest weeping his misfortune, and later as he and the villagers struggle through the bog in their flight from the Nazi invasion. The lyricism of these sequences are psychologically valid, and encourage us to identify even more closely with Florya's character. This, of course, makes us feel his terrible fall from near-grace all the more profoundly.
Once the German's make their inevitable appearance on the scene, the film makes an abrupt left turn at Albuquerque. We aren't in Kansas anymore, Toto. The Nazi's aerial assault is accompanied by a devastating bombardment that causes Florya to go temporarily deaf, while subsequent images of the brutalized citizenry make him (and us) wish he was blind as well, which further invites us to consider the terrible irony of the film's title. Do we really want to bear witness to this?
Well, we are given little choice in the matter, as Florya's descent into Hell continues apace. The viciousness and relentlessness of the Nazi's invasion makes the cause of Florya and the partisan's feel inevitably hopeless, which does soften the blow a bit, as we find ourselves out of emotional necessity stepping back from our intimate connection to Florya. While there appears to be no way out for him, this is not true of the audience, and the bludgeoning we take at the hands of the filmmakers may be historically accurate, and, given the level of horror brought to this world by the Nazi's, completely necessary, that does not mean an audience will necessarily go along for the ride when the destination is so clearly without hope or redemption.
I felt violated by the end of Come and See, but unlike your similar reaction to Lars Von Trier's AntiChrist, I can see that there is a greater cause afoot here. While director Klimov can be forgiven for driving the point home with the sort of mercilessness that forces us to reflect upon the consequences of the Nazi's inhumanity to humanity, von Trier has no such larger concern with which to distract us from his.
Now, welcome to Ben's second tour of duty. This review was written after a second viewing of the film:
"Or was this intellectual flight on my part when confronted by emotionally unbearable art?... It won't surprise me if down the road I ask to borrow it again in order to reflect on certain aspects of it, that the film will haunt me." (9/21/2009)
Well you know it's been haunting me and you know I borrowed it again and we both know that, yes, confronted by this emotionally unbearable art, I took intellectual flight. Whatever technical/aesthetic reservations I registered in 2009 I now rescind. Come and See is a masterpiece.
Made in 1985 just a few years before the USSR fell apart, Come and See is Soviet-style realism on drugs. Very very hard drugs. The result being a nightmare that is not a mere halluncination of hell but a genuine vision of actual hell on earth. It is one of those extremely rare works that simultaneously achieves maximum realism and an exaggerated, hyper-realism that takes on surreal dimensions. The film authentically recreates history and provides retrospective interpretive understanding of the past at the same time, all the while making use of obviously theatrical tactics and striking cinematographic devices. The point of view is dialectically there-and-then and here-and-now at once. There is also a complete unity of symbolic imagery and poetic conceits with the unflinching verismilitude of the narrative. And in the end, there is the impossibility of turning back the hands of time and the duty to remember.
After it was done, Max declared that it was the best holocaust film he had ever seen (adding that he has seen a few even though he is just a kid). Jacob was quick to correct him, insisting that Come and See is not, per se, about The Holocaust, (definite article, capitalized). But I was just as quick to correct Jacob that Max was right to realize that the film depicts holocaust. That the Nazis destroyed 675 Belorussian villages. Exterminating everyone in them. Or just stare at the final figure. The Soviet Union lost over 23 million people in WWII. Growing up during the Cold War, listening to right-wing America-first types tell me that The Ruskies were out to bomb us all to Kingdom come, I always pointed to the unfathomable devastation they went through and suggested that it was fathomable that they might not want to go through anything like that again... eh?
A masterpiece. The film is a masterpiece. Technical/aesthetic reservations? I should be so smart as to be able to understand how Come and See was conceived and crafted. In my review two years ago, the attention I paid to the soundtrack in its own right and in relation to the imagery was appropriate but for my inability to process the power of this package as a whole. I was overwhelmed. Well, that's the point. The artistic point about the historic truth. It's just a monumental cinematic experience. This second time around I can now also add that the editing, the pacing of the narrative, the staging of the conflagrations, the camera tracking through the woods, the mask-wearing performances, and on and on - all together being so much more than the sum of its parts; such that the atrocities are for us visceral, eclipsing the limitation of the screen, reaching out, grabbing us and pulling us into the picture.
Wiki: Elem Klimov did not make any more films after Come and See, leading some critics to speculate as to why. In 2001, Klimov said, "I lost interest in making films ... Everything that was possible I felt I had already done."