Come and See is a 1985 Soviet war film directed by Elem Kimov which focuses on the events in a young boy’s life in Belarus during World War II. I was jarred by this film. Many critics put Apocalypse Now on the pedestal when it comes to exploring the psychological horrors of war, but I would venture to say that Come and See is a further descent into that dreaded landscape of chaos and savagery. Kimov probes beyond the boundaries of sanity to present a relatively unexpected story of the unforgettable past.
Aleksei Kravchenko plays Florya, a young boy who lives in Belarus with his mother and sisters. His life is rattled after he is taken by the local partisans and left behind. Florya meets a young girl named Glasha at the partisan camp, and when they return to their village, they find their loved ones dead and gone, and so begins a spiral into madness and chaos.
Kimov had unprofessional actors play the parts of his characters, and you can tell that the shooting and preparations for the filming must have been gruelling. I can’t think of too many other films where the boy protagonist looks about one hundred years old by the end of the film (crows’ feet and stress wrinkles and grey hair, and that’s not just makeup!). That being said, the imagery of the film is shocking. Kimov relies on stark, nightmarish imagery to convey his anti-war sentiment. The film is embellished with a dark poetry through these images. For example, the picture featured there is a crude Hitler effigy which the townsfolk erect.
Much of the atrocities are based on actual accounts by Byelorussian survivors of the war. The morality and nonchalance of the film is particularly frightening. Men, women and children are burned alive as German soldiers rejoice in song and dance. Florya wants to wake up from this dream, but he is bound by reality and reality has become a nightmare that preys off his sanity. By the end of it, you wonder if there’s any redemption for his character. He has seen and experienced so much, and we are his unwary guides through the scope of the film reel.
Come and See is incredibly depressing. I watched it a few days ago and wanted to post this long overdue review then, but I was so depressed that I couldn’t pull myself to do it until now. It’s knowing that these atrocities actually happened that haunts me the most. The horrific images of the concentration camp footage in Night and Fog will forever remain with me, but the lingering psychological drama of Come and See continues to tear at my soul. There’s one scene towards the end of the film where Florya encounters Glasha’s double and he initially believes it to be her. The girl has been so badly gang raped that blood gushes out of her maimed mouth and thighs and she is left in a catatonic state. Her eyes are practically dead. In another scene, a mother and her child try to escape a burning church, only to have the toddler thrown back in the church and the mother gang raped by German soldiers. It’s scenes like these that mar your senses. Your only protection is your primal instincts in that godless world, where civility only reigns, and we see that primal instinct in its most malicious manifestation in the form of the Schutzstaffel in the film.
Come and See is an important film to see, not only for the war film buffs like me, but also for the humanists and those who are willing to see. The Apocalypse is a nightmare of colours.