The film I am writing about today is one that I should not like. It was made by an dedicated member of the USSR’s repressive regime and is, without question, a propaganda film. However, Elem Klimov’s 1985 war film Come and See is a breathtaking, heartbreaking masterpiece that has lived longer in my memory than perhaps any other film I have seen. I will attempt to do it justice in these meagre 300 words.
Klimov’s film follows one such victim of these horrors; a twelve-year old boy named Flyora. The young man is living the quiet life in a small Byelorussian village in late 1943. All this changes when the retreating Nazi forces arrive seeking reprisals. Against the wishes of his family and with the world collapsing around him, Flyora joins up with the Byelorussian Partisan fighters. What follows is the most painfully realistic depictions of war time atrocities and their impact on humanity, represented entirely through the eyes of this young boy. Hence the title. Over the course the next two-hours we the viewer, see the limits of mankind’s capabilities for inhumanity and destruction.
Ironically, there has never been a more effective anti-war piece of cinema in history.
It goes without saying that watching Come and See is a brutal experience. The performance of Aleksey Kravchencko as Flyora is stunning. One of the best child-actor performances of all time. Klimov is able to bring to life the murky, muddy, blood-soaked reality of the war on the Eastern Front in a way never seen before or since. Despite these battle-scenes and depictions of war crimes, the movie never feels needlessly violent or disconnected from its emotional core. The cacophony of sights and sounds creates a feeling of helplessness, confusion and chaos – the true nature of war – and allows us to feel as one with Flyora. Most war films are told through the eyes of a heroic, brave and dashing solider who is immune to the horrors around him. But here Flyora represents the lost innocence of all humanity, regardless of nationality, to the ravages of a war in which even the winners have lost more than they will ever know.
For my money Come and See is not only the greatest Soviet film of all time, but the greatest war film. Yes, it is a piece of propaganda, but don’t let that put you off for it is so much more. It was released to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany, an attempt by the state to increase national pride in the war and perhaps prepare for an upcoming one. Ironically, there has never been a more effective anti-war piece of cinema in history.
At a time when geo-political tensions are high, and talk of more war rising, I defy anyone to watch Come and See without emerging a different person. There is an old saying; ‘War Is Hell, and while only those who have fought can attest to its true depths, watching this movie is as close as anyone else will get to those flames.
Last modified: 26th February 2019