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  • Writer's pictureMiles Stephenson

Come and See (1985), Elem Klimov [5/5]

Updated: Sep 20, 2022

Simply put, Come And See is the best war movie I’ve seen. It has displaced my previous favorites of Cimino's The Deer Hunter and Coppola's Apocalypse Now, somehow transcending their combination of art film and anti-war film to even more paralyzing affect while still thundering with the impressive spectacle of a 1917 or Saving Private Ryan. In this 1985 story – censored for 8 years by the Soviet government – a Belarusian boy named Flyora is displaced from his village and conscripted into the apocalypse of the German invasion, traveling with bands of resistance fighters and survivors as he witnesses the atrocities of the world's greatest conflict.

The director Elem Klimov interposes hypnotic images of naturalistic poetry (an eerie, ghost-like stork, a Nazi shoulder-perched slow loris, a dead cow in a field) with extremes of Nietzschean master morality that culminate in the barn scene, capturing WWII Fascism in a singular, harrowing symphony.

Many of the scenes are as meditative as anything Tarkovsky has produced; Klimov worked with cinematographer Alexey Rodionov to capture rainy bombardments in the Belarusian pine forest that inject the terror of war into the viewer and close-ups of anguish on Flyora's face that recall Carl Theodor Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc with his raw, aching expressiveness. The film is punctuated with moments of surrealism, like in the concluding infant hitler montage that seems to compress all of the injustices of the war in a dozen frames. It is a fascinated and crushing movie, the kind that inspires people to a lifelong study of the conditions that led to the rise of totalitarianism and Hitlerism; how could such an evil have ever belonged to our world? How could thousands of soldiers have gone along with the senseless murder of women and children, and laughed while they acted it out? This movie is a window, perhaps our best window, into that evil. 5/5, a tragic and disturbing masterpiece that I rank in my top 5 must-see movies of all time.

Miles Stephenson

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