(Come and See)
Director: Elem Klimov
Production: Byelarusfilm, Mosfilm; Sovcolor; running time: 142 minutes.
Production manager: J.Tereshenko; screenplay: Ales Adamovich, Elem Klimov, based on works by Ales Adamovich, including The Khatyn Story and A Punitive Squad ; photography: Alexei Rodionov; editor: V. Belova; assistant director: V. Pondchevni, Z. Rogozovskaya; production designer: Viktor Petrov; music: Oleg Yanchenko; music editor: M. Blank; costumes: E. Semenova; sound; V. Mors.
Cast: Alexei Kravshenko ( Florya ); Olga Mironova ( Glasha ); Liubomiras Laucevicius, Vladas Bagdonas, Victor Lorents.
Diaz Torres, D., " Ven y mira ," in Cine Cubano (Habana), no. 114, 1985.
Variety (New York), 17 July 1985.
Portal, M., "Klimov, un cinéaste visionnaire" in Jeune Cinéma (Paris), November-December 1985.
Strick, P., Monthly Film Bulletin (London), March 1987.
LeFanu, M., "Partisan" in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1987.
Bassan, R., and M. Martin, Revue du Cinéma (Paris), May 1987.
Goethals, Piet, " Idi I smotri : die Leiden des jungen Florya," in Film en Televisie + Video (Brussels), no. 371, April 1988.
Makkonen, V. -P., "Elem Klimov elokuviensa takana," in Filmihullu (Helsinki), no. 6, 1988.
Noel, J., and D. Fischer, "Viens et vois," in Les Cine-Fiches de Grand Angle , vol. 15, no. 105, May 1988.
Simons, Jan, "Beeld van de oorlog," in Skrien (Amsterdam), no. 174, October-November 1990.
Youngblood, D.J., "Post-Stalinist Cinema and the Myth of World War II: Tarkovskii's Ivan's Childhood (1962) and Klimov's Come and See (1985)," Historical Journal of Film and Television (Abingdon), vol. 14, no. 4, 1994.
Cinéma (Paris), 23 September 1987.
Donets, L., "Preodolenie," in Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), no. 5, 1995.
* * *
Come and See is set in Byelorussia in 1943, and tells the story of German atrocities against the population through the eyes of a young boy, Florya, who, at the start of the film, joins the partisans. Whilst he is away his entire village, including his mother and little sisters, are butchered by the Germans. Returning with a partisan girl, Glasha, he discovers the awful truth, an event which virtually unhinges him. Roaming through the bleak Byelorussian countryside with an everdwindling band of displaced people, he eventually witnesses the German destruction of the village of Perekhody and the slaughter of its inhabitants—an event from which he narrowly escapes with his own life. The German unit responsible is caught and destroyed by the partisans, whom Florya, now aged almost beyond recognition by his terrible experiences, rejoins.
The events portrayed in Come and See have been drawn from at least three separate books by Ales Adanovich (who also worked on the screenplay), so that, as Philip Strick put it, "what has been reconstructed is a symbolic tragedy, drawing together a multiplicity of terrible episodes into one condensed nightmare." Indeed, an end credit tells us that there were 628 Perekhodys in Byelorussia, but new evidence unearthed since the fall of the Soviet Union suggests there were far more. Likewise a good deal of recent work emanating from Germany itself—and, in particular, a major exhibition in Hamburg in 1995—has cast a great deal of doubt on the conventional view that atrocities on the Eastern Front were carried out by the SS and various ill-assorted non-German Nazis, whilst the professional Wehrmacht got on with the job of being ordinary soldiers. So whilst it may indeed be the case, as some critics have complained, that Come and See will do little to foster good East-West relations, its representation of German soldiery in Byelorussia as glorying in the most vile and degraded behaviour imaginable, at least has the virtue of historical accuracy, and of puncturing the assiduously cultivated myth of the dutiful Wehrmacht.
Come and See has aptly been described as an "epic of derangement," and long before the horrors of Perekhody are presented in 25 almost unbearable minutes, the spectator has been submerged in a world that seems to have gone stark raving mad. Whether in the opening scene, in which two boys dig for buried guns in a bleak, Beckett-like landscape of sand dunes; Florya and Glasha's agonised struggle through a swamp to reach an encampment of lamenting women surrounding a charred, but still living, body; or the picaresque cross-country journey to find food, accompanied by a death's-head-like effigy of Hitler, in which only Florya survives just, this is a film informed with the spirit of Goya's The Disasters of War. Philip Strick has drawn a parallel with the "fevered expressionism" of Chukrai's Ballad of a Soldier and Kalatozov's The Cranes are Flying , and whilst it is true that there are plenty of bravura sequences involving long, mobile, hand-held shots, there is nothing particularly heroic about the vision of war on offer here. Indeed, from the moment Florya leaves home—not entirely willingly—it is presented as one long, utterly brutalising experience which leaves him looking like a wizened old man. In the early scene at the partisan camp in which the partisans are photographed in an heroic group pose, and the soundtrack fills with a patriotic song, it's as if Klimov is actually poking fun, not at the partisans themselves of course, but at the conventionalised image which they acquired in the post-war Soviet Union.
The sense of derangement is massively augmented by the film's remarkably orchestrated soundtrack. Aural distortion is present right from the start, when one of the boys looking for guns addresses the camera in a voice that seems to have come straight out of The Exorcist. It becomes much more pronounced, however, after the scene in which the partisan camp is bombed, which causes damage to Florya's hearing. From then on in the soundtrack is what Strick has described as a "stunning tinnitus of distorted tones," in particular making great play with variations on and treatments of the drone of the lone aircraft which reappears throughout the film like the sword of Damocles circling overhead. Not since Raging Bull or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre have the expressive possibilities of the soundtrack been exploited to such devastating effect.