After finding an old rifle, Florya, a young boy, is recruited by the soviet resistance to fight the Nazis.
There have been dozens, if not hundreds, of films that depict the horrors of war. Many of these films show the violence of battle or the gory aftermath, some focus on the injustices of the holocaust, and others the destruction wrought in the cities. I’ve seen very few films that show the perspective that this film shows: that is, the point of view of a young boy living in the countryside on the fringe of the battlefields. The perspective of this film is its greatest asset; we see everything through the eyes of Florya, whom, at the beginning of the film, is young and naïve.
(SOME SPOILERS IN THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH)
The film starts with two boys digging in the sand near a battlefield. An elderly man walks by the two playing boys and warns them not to dig around the battlefield, as it might give rise to German suspicions. The boys don’t heed the man’s warning, and soon Florya finds a rifle in the ground. Florya is excited, and he returns home with his gun. The next day, however, the soviets come to Florya’s home and essentially force him to join the army (Florya is probably 14/15 years old). Florya joins the army and heads into a forest where the Soviets have made camp; he’s told he must stay behind, as he’s too young to go into battle. Disappointed, Florya goes into the woods as the rest of the army heads off to battle, where he meets Glasha (Olga Mironova), a girl a few years his senior. Soon, bombs start to drop on the camp, and Florya and Glasha escape into the woods. Disoriented and separated from the army, Florya and Glasha decide to try and make their way home, and they set off across a hellish landscape plagued by Nazis, hunger, and the corpses of those left behind.
This is a slow film, but it’s harrowing. It’s hard to describe what watching this movie is like because it’s such an experience. Florya’s world before he goes off to war isn’t perfect, but it seems sheltered and without many problems; the way that Klimov shoots these scenes makes them feel almost dreamlike. The settings are bright and clean, filled with gorgeous shots of nature that are slow and beautiful. It’s a complete juxtaposition when Florya is thrown into the war. As soon as the bombings start, the land looses its dreamlike quality and becomes incredibly nightmarish. Trees are splinted and shattered; roads are churned up and muddy; fields are shrouded in mist and speckled with bodies. Some shots are still long, but many times the editing includes quick, almost violent cuts that keep the viewer enraptured in what’s happening. I began to notice early on that the choices for where certain scenes happen usually spoke to how the characters were feeling internally; scenes at the beginning were in a dreamlike forest, but as the characters experience worse and worse things, the terrain becomes more treacherous and the things they experience in their travels becomes more traumatic.
Aleksey Kravchenko was absolutely incredible as young Florya. In many scenes, Aleksey isn’t given much dialogue, and the only tool at his disposal for conveying his distress is the expression of horror on his face. Somehow, Kravchenko, who was only fifteen at the time this was filmed, was able to show his horror in a devastating way. The look on his face during some scenes still haunts me as I write this review. During my viewing, I kept thinking back and making comparisons to the lachrymose performance of Maria Falconetti in “The Passion of Joan of Arc” (1928).
As the film moves forward towards its grim conclusion, we’re shown different perspectives of the war. Despite this films being of the best anti-war movies I’ve ever seen, none of this film really happens on a battlefield (the bombing in the woods is the closest we get to an actual battle). Most of the violence of this film happens off screen (barely). The aftermath is what the director chose to focus on. This film chooses to stay with the villagers as Germans and Soviets alike come through the towns, pillaging what food they can in order to make ends meet. The journey Florya goes through leads him down some paths that have a lot to say about ethics and morals. There’s a scene (Small spoiler in just this sentence) when Florya comes across a group of people that are starving, and in an attempt to help them, he steals a cow from an innocent farmer, only to have the cow gunned down before he can get it back to the village. All of Florya’s efforts to make things better are quashed, and he becomes more and more worn out as we near the end.
Towards the very end of the film, after the climax has happened, Klimov ends the film in a more experimental way. He interweaves real stock footage of the holocaust and shots of Hitler’s rise to power with shots from the film. Many of the stock footage images are shown in reverse, and the final stock image shown is a picture of Hitler. The film lingers on the horrors put in motion by one man’s ideas, and the powerlessness of the common man in the face of that horror. That powerlessness that Florya feels, and Klimov makes the viewer feel, is something that I believe will make this film linger longer in the minds of the viewer.
Though not as graphic as movies like “Schinder’s List” (1993), “Platoon” (1986), or “Full Metal Jacket” (1987), “Come and See'“ proclaims just as strong of an anti-war message. This film is harrowing and disturbing and it’s not to be watched lightly (this isn’t a popcorn flick that’s easily watched and forgotten). “Come and See” is a film that deserves to be seen, but know what you’re getting into before you see it.
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