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The Film

   This movie has an online cover Come And See (1985)
Directed By: Elem Klimov


View Count: 2
First/Last Viewed:2006.10.25/2006.11.17
First/Last Reviewed:2006.10.25/2006.11.07

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If you think about it, the overwhelming majority of films about WW2 you have seen have probably been American or European. Invariably, the Germans and the Japanese are most of the time the evil ones, and that's understandable. One thing however is that the atrocities committed by those two countries extend well beyond the slaughter of 6M Jews and almost 5M of other poor souls in Europe by the Germans and countless murders and tortures of POWs and forced death marches of entire families, and the Kamikaze practice by the Japanese. I find it fascinating when i get to see WW2 movies that present a very different perspective and show us why that war was global in nature and how extensive the damage caused by Germany and Japan has actually been.

Several years ago, i stumbled on Red Cherry (1995) a Chinese-Russian movie about the true story of a young Chinese girl in a German prison camp in Russia who was drugged every night so that the prison Captain, a derranged SS Officer, could tattoo her and transform her into a fetishistic work of art to the glory of the Third Reich. There is also the infamous Chinese film Men Behind The Sun (1987) that depicts some of the more horrible war crimes Japanese committed against the Chinese. There is also the German film Stalingrad (1993) which depicts War in such a gritty and sickening way that you can't help but feel pity for the German soldiers fighting the critical battle of Stalingrad, even if you don't bear any special feelings for German soldiers of WW2. Making you feel the pain of your ennemy is definitely a tour de force for this film. Then there is the Hungarian Fateless (2005) which managed to say something new about the holocaust. Those films show that there are still many other stories about WW2 that we haven't been exposed to yet, at least in the film medium.

One aspect that is sorely missing in our WW2 movie culture is a Russian point of view. Over 20M Russians died during only three short years and there are countless accounts and stories of the numerous burning and killing campaigns Hitler waged against Western Russia. I found this little known yet acclaimed 1985 Russian movie completely by accident on Cinflix, a site similar to NetFlix, but specializing in Asian films and hard-to-find world gems.

Come And See (1985) tells the story of young teenagers Florya (a boy) and Glasha (a girl) as they are thrust in the middle of a German killing campaigns sometimes in 1942. Naive and idealistic, Florya decides to join a small local battallion and fight the invader. At the camp, he meets the mysterious and beautiful girl Glasha, and verything seems idyllic as tales of heroism and victories greatly outnumber those about the horrors of war. During a German attack, Florya and Glasha get separated from the other men and are forced to flee. Florya decides to return to his village, only to find everyone butchered. Everything from then on goes from bad to worse as the teenagers get a first-person experience of Hell on earth.

What immediately grabs your attention with this movie is how different it is. Characters behave in "strange" ways. The cultural shift of this Russian tale is quite strong. It's also filmed with a fevered dreamy horror-film like quality that i have never seen in a war film before. It is filled with scenes that are beautiful, surreal yet so real and scary at the same time. It's not the gore, although there are a few gory scenes, but more about the nightmarish mood the film creates and builds up to its furious and firy end. It reminded me in many ways of Stanley Kubrick's Shining, The (1980) with its growing sense of imminent doom which never lets go. One scene particularly stuck in my mind. After a village has been reduced to a mass graveyard by the German forces, the survivors gather and set to create out of mud and wood an effigy of Hitler that they then spit on. The scene has an eerie soundtrack and is filmed as if an army of Zombies were lashing out on a dead body. Another magical yet horrific scene has the boy hide next to a cow as enemy fire is raging and violent fireworks finally blow up the cow. The cow's innocence and calm before death is in direct contrast with the boy's state of mind of sheer panic and at this time in the story, with a child-like innocence that has been completely robbed from him.

I must say that when i started watching this film, i didn't really click. The movie is about 140mn long and comes on two DVDs of about 70mn each. I struggled through the first part, not understanding everything i was watching, or why characters behaved the way they did. It was frustrating. What was surprising is that through the night, i kept dreaming about the film, and throughout the next day, i kept remembering scenes, images, sounds. This film affected me in a powerful way that wasn't obvious at all at first. I watched the second part several days later when the second DVD arrived and that was much easier to get as i had had time to process the first part in my mind. The second part is also much stronger and bloodier with fewer slow contemplative moments, and so it is more "easily" engaging because it's more visceral and direct.

This is quite a unique film that presents a side of WW2 that we rarely get to see in movies. The events depicted are familiar to anyone who studied basic WW2 history, but seeing a visual recreation of it is quite another matter. The film also feels very honest and visceral. The Director is himself a survivor of such a killing campaign and it shows. The movie is challenging because its structure, the way it's filmed, and its soundtrack are so different from what i am used to. But in the end, the best films are the ones you keep remembering and think about days after you have seen them. Those rare films touch you at the subconscious level.

- Laurent Hasson