An extremely raw, robust & ruthless account of one of the worst atrocities committed by man, Come and See paints a relentlessly grim, increasingly disquieting, endlessly harrowing, acutely disturbing & emotionally devastating portrait of war through the eyes of a young boy whose soul & innocence is mercilessly destroyed by the horrors & human suffering he witnesses. Thoroughly bleak yet utterly powerful, this Soviet war drama isn’t just one of the finest examples of its genre but is remarkable enough to rank amongst the greatest films ever made.
Set in Byelorussia during the Second World War, the story of Come and See follows a young boy who finds an old rifle and joins the resistance movement in order to fight the advancing German troops. At first excited by the prospect of war and serving for the greater good, he soon finds himself being completely overwhelmed by the death & destruction that warfare brings upon anyone & everyone, and is forever changed by the brutal & barbaric acts that the Nazis inflict upon the populace, something he ends up bearing witness to from an unsettling close range.
Co-written & directed by Elem Klimov in what eventually became his final feature, the film merges surreal imagery with raw & realistic filmmaking, for the first hour feels more like an artsy production with bizarre acting on display but it ultimately adds up to the experience as plot progresses and horrors of war gradually escalate and we witness one of the most gruesome segments in cinema history, filmed with such gripping intensity that it affects our psyche, assaults our senses & leaves behind a scar that acts as a constant reminder of the reckless hate humans are capable of.
Shot in expertly chosen locations that transport us back to the World War II setting, Klimov maintains firm control over each aspect and apart from the era-specific set pieces, makes even the changing weather work in the story’s favour. The camera is manoeuvred around with finesse, following the events without any interruption by employing long takes while the desaturated colour palette add to its bleak aura and gives the whole picture the touch & feel of a historical documentary. Editing allows the plot to unfurl at an unhurried pace and observes the journey of our protagonist amidst the brutal debris of war in a cut-throat fashion.
And yet, much of its grisly moments & confrontational themes wouldn’t have made the desired impact if it wasn’t for Aleksey Kravchenko’s jaw-dropping performance in what was actually his debut role. It’s a truly breathtaking act from the young kid who manages to convey the required emotions with brutal honesty despite having no prior acting experience. Just his gaze into the camera is enough to tell what his character is feeling in the given scene and he is at his absolute best during the final act, where his fear, confusion, pain, agony & loss come off as so convincing that it’s impossible to not be stirred by it. Lastly, the music has no definite structure in here but the classical tracks that show up later are aptly incorporated.
On an overall scale, Come and See is one of the most affecting & confrontational war films ever made. Absolutely uncompromising with its content, profoundly upsetting in its depiction, and powerfully evocative in its delivery, the film isn’t going to be an easy sit for most viewers but it’s by all means an essential viewing. Also, through the transformation that our central character undergoes over the course of 142 minutes, the film serves as an unforgettable evidence of the irrevocable damage that warfare leaves behind in its wake even if you end up winning in the end, and is a crying plea for peace. One of the most powerful, significant & upsetting works of its genre, Come and See is an enduring landmark of Soviet cinema whose potency & relevance won’t ever be diminished by the test of time. Strongly recommended.