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With: Alexei Kravchenko, Olga Mironova, Lubomiras Lauchiavicus
Written by: Elem Klimov, based on stories by Ales Adamovich
Directed by: Elem Klimov
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: Russian with English subtitles
Running Time: 142
Date: 07/01/1985

Come and See (1985)

4 Stars (out of 4)

World Gore, Too

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In a perfect world, Come and See, opening June 29, 2001, at the Roxie for a week's run, would put an end to all World War II movies. Indeed, though I was a huge movie buff as far back as 1985 and kept track of the comings and goings of new movies, I'd never heard of Come and See until now. If it had received a wider release, it certainly would have diminished the impact of something like Platoon, and today, it makes Pearl Harbor look absolutely useless.

Come and See tells the story of a young boy named Florya (Alexei Kravchenko) who longs to help defend his small Russian village of Byelorussia from the invading Nazis. The first scene sets the tone for the entire film; he digs through the unmarked graves of dead soldiers to find an operable gun. When he does, he bravely marches off to be with the other troops. Yet fate leaves Florya behind. Another soldier needs new boots and Florya's are sacrificed so that the more experience man can go on the march.

Florya finds himself left behind with a strange a beautiful girl named Glasha (Olga Mironova). The pair camp out in the woods until Nazi bombs begin to fall, damaging Florya's hearing. From then on, the dazed and confused Florya bounces from place to place finding increasingly horrible death and destruction. In one scene, he attempts to steal a cow for food for the rebels, but gets caught in a siege. As he lays on the ground, we see the bullets zipping overhead in streaks of red. Both Florya's partner and the cow take fatal hits, forcing Florya to spend the night in the field. When he wakes up, the Nazis will have arrived.

Director Elem Klimov was a veteran filmmaker whose career began in the late 50s and ended with Come and See. He avoids an overuse of dialogue (getting a lot of mileage out of Florya's damaged hearing by using a slightly muted soundtrack), concentrates on the depth of frame, rather than width and height, and uses young Kravchenko's face to extraordinary advantage. Kravchenko visually ages over the course of the film, even though we can assume it's only been a matter of days or weeks. His forehead wrinkles in horror and despair and his eyes change from hopeful to sad to utterly vacant. Klimov ends the film with this face, and it, above all the other horrors, haunts Come and See.

Klimov understands that 142 minutes of horror is a lot to take and gives us a few breaks. In one incredible scene, Florya and Glasha bathe by shaking the raindrops from high tree branches. And I have to admit, the red streaks against the twilight sky were as beautiful as they were horrible. Klimov does resort to using newsreel footage in the film's final minutes, adding that 628 villages similar to Byelorussia were destroyed by the Nazis.

Though he ends with these bits of reality, Come and See succeeds through its use of nightmarish un-reality -- how we might see these events not through a documentary objectivity, but through an uncomprehending gaze of horror. This is the real thing, undiluted to the point that a hundred Pearl Harbors couldn't add up to a frame of it.

Kino's 2003 DVD release preserves this masterful film beautifully, offering a whopping 13 subtitle options (including Hebrew!), but breaks up the action by putting the film on two discs. In 2020, the Criterion Collection offered a new Blu-ray version of a restored print (which received a brief theatrical release earlier in the year). It features an amazing transfer, with the glum, brownish/grayish color palette, yet still luminous and crisp, especially during the bathing-in-the-woods scene. The audio track is uncompressed.

Bonuses include a 10-minute interview with cinematographer Roger Deakins (a fan of the film), a new interview with the director's brother German Klimov (27 mins.); a three-part documentary from 1975 (about 50 mins. total), about real-life survivors of the genocide in Belorussia; interviews from 2001 with director Klimov (21 mins.), and with actor Alexei Kravchenko (13 mins.) and production designer Viktor Petrov (8 mins.); a short, 10-minute making-of featurette from 1985; a trailer from the re-release, and a new subtitle translation. The liner notes booklet includes essays by critic Mark Le Fanu and poet Valzhyna Mort.

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