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Come and See
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by MP Bartley

"War as brutal and hellish as you're likely to see."
5 stars

War films have often been refracted through the prism of many different approaches - as tales of morality, historical artefacts, or mythic stories of valour, sacrifice and victory. Elem Klimov has done it through the perspective of a horror film.

But not horror in the sense that it's filled with bus scares and "Boo!" moments. No, this is the horror of a fractured psyche, the horror of a violent and violated childhood and the horror of seeing something so traumatic it will be burned onto your brain until your dying day.

Florya (Aleksey Kravchenko) is a young Russian boy who, against his will, is conscripted into the Partisans to lead the fightback against the Nazi forces who are steadily pushing their way over the border into Belarus. Taken from his poverty-stricken farm and loving family, he's thrown into a harsh world of discipline and bloodshed and expected to fight and die like a man - but nothing can prepare him for what he's really going to see in war.

What's first interesting about Come and See is that for the most part, it's free of context. The Partisans appear to have no real strategic importance or tactical plan in mind, they are simply fighting against oppressors and Klimov has no real interest in placing the conflict here against the wide scope of how WWII panned out. Instead, for most of the first half of the film, Florya is left behind by his adult counterparts, charged with guarding their woodland base until they return.

But this is no bucolic innocent in paradise, Klimov instead whipping up an intense atmosphere of isolation, paranoia and fear caused by the knowledge that on the verges of your world there is a war raging that your very existence relies upon. Florya finds a girl of a similar age to he, and while the expected plot may be that they have their first sexual awakenings with each other, this film has no time for that. The solitude of their world becomes something to be feared and Klimov's nervy direction quickly escalates into a nightmare as Florya discovers something that shatters his innocence forever. Ironically, it's not just what we have come to see as the title beckons us, it's what we hear, the soundtrack becoming a hideous combination of distorted choral vocals, screaming and the constant buzzing of flies as the true victims of war are revealed to us and it all becomes too much for Florya's young mind to bear. Imagine The Texas Chain Saw Massacre crossed with Peckinpah's Cross of Iron and you might get an idea of how unrelenting, how punishing this film is.

And yet this is only the warm up. The true horror comes in the second half of the film when Florya becomes a true soldier and discovers that the Nazis have taken over hundreds of small villages on the borders of his country. Trying to write down what he's witness to risks trivialising it, or lessening the impact - the grim, horrendous finale makes the title of the film not so much an invitation, but a challenge. See this if you can, and not because it's gory or gruesome (there are far more gruesome war films) but because as an exploration of the sheer scale of evil and horror committed by man onto fellow man, it has a scope and unflinching, gutwrenching power all of its own. I'd be hugely surprised if Spielberg had not seen this, as so much of Schindler's List imagery borrows from it. Hordes of weeping, petrified people crushed together into buildings far too small for them, children hurled around like pieces of meat, dispassionate faces that stare down people screaming for their lives, the harsh rattle of gunfire and fiery conflagrations that are hideous behind belief in their end results...this is war, this is horror and this is stuff that will seep into your brain and not let you sleep easily.

The title comes from a Bible quotation in the Book of Revelation. "And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth." Death and the Beast visiting mankind to rain down apocalypse on us all by turning mankind upon itself - there is nothing more horrifying than that.

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originally posted: 01/19/12 07:24:42
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User Comments

9/09/16 the truth best film on the horrors of war; man's inhumanity to man knows no bounds 5 stars
5/11/14 Quigley One of the greatest and most horrific war films ever made. 5 stars
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  06-Feb-1987 (NR)
  DVD: 02-Sep-2003

  N/A (15)


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