I just finished watching Come and See. This movie was made in the mid ‘80s, is a very good example of Soviet cinema and should be touted as a must-see by any serious movie buff, or even part-time movie buffs like myself.
This movie is absolute terror. As gritty and realistic as Saving Private Ryan but with almost no gore. This is a film that portrays what really happens in war. There is no glory. There are no heroes. There is only the cold math of survival.
We watch the main character Flyora get stripped of everything in the course of the film. It’s hard to believe that the smiling, happy boy in the beginning of the film is the same one at the end of the film swallowed up by the group of partisans, more than likely going off to his death.
The atmosphere is as bleak and oppressive as any location in Providence. Soldiers creeping out of the fog are like hungry wraiths. The cinematography does a very good job of expressing the utter loss of hope. We see the character’s faces right in front of the camera when we first interact with them, we see their freshness and in Flyora’s case, simplicity and ignorance of the reality of the world around him. it is through these shots — easy elemental framed pictures — we see the real face of war. The fear. The pain and worst of all, the banality. The moments of hate are almost a relief, but the protagonist – and by extension, the audience – rarely gets that luxury.
Death comes here often, and there is no ceremony to it. No dying words. One minute he’s talking, the next minute he’s dead. Nothing is spared. Even the animals are killed senselessly. We are reduced to powerless observers. The moment of catharsis is a release of sanity, rather than a release of emotion. Even at the very end of the film, we know that the cycle is going to continue. An almost perpetual meat grinder indifferent to everything. The final scene, watching the partisans through the trees amid funeral music, only reinforces the dread. We are left with the sight of more ghosts trying to find their final rest.
The performances are — especially of Aleksey Kravchenko — are powerful. We watch him age at almost inhuman speed. Glasha undergoes a similar transformation. Like Flyora, she comes into the movie with innocence that is tragically crushed. The small blessing is that we never see it happen, but the aftermath is enough. The fear on Aleksey’s face is real. Every shot fired was a live round of ammunition. The actor described round coming so close to him, he could hear them. The next time some Hollywood fluff says he’s sacrificed for his art, ask him if anyone’s shot at him with live fire. If he says no, then light a cigarette, take a long drag and put it out on his nose and tell him to do some real work.
If you ever get the chance to see this work – go and see it. This is a film that deserves to be sitting next to Saving Private Ryan, Downfall and Letters from Iwo Jima. It is a vital piece of work that the whole world must see.