Come and See (1985)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Although an older gentleman admonishes them not to dig in the sand, Florya (Aleksey Kravchenko) and a fellow boy from the village decide not to heed the warning. Finding a firearm will enable Florya, a young teenager, to achieve his dream of joining Soviet partisans against the 1943 Byelorussian Nazi occupation. Once the boys find a rifle, they notice a plane hovering above. Soon enough, two partisan members come to collect Florya. Despite his mother’s desperate plea to keep her only son at home, Florya is barely able to contain his excitement in finally being a part of the war.
Directed by Elem Klimov, “Idi i smotri” dares to shake the very core of its viewers. With the story strictly seen through the eyes of an adolescent–not a child and not quite an adult–there is an expected evolution in his character with regards to his attitude about the war, but the trajectories are atypical avenues worth exploring. For a character who barely gets a chance to carry on a conversation, it is an amazing feat that by the end most of us will feel like we know him completely because we have been with him in every experience.
The film is abound with memorable images, from the smile plastered on Florya’s face during his stint at the partisan camp to groups of men, women, and children being burned alive in a church. The horror is as dependent on what we see as what we do not. For instance, when Florya returns home with a friend, Glasha (Olga Mironova), the starkness of the house’s indoors is amplified by the buzzing of flies. While some food is out on a table, it is increasingly noticeable that the amount of buzzing is just too much. Where is it all coming from? Florya and Glasha suspect that something is wrong. When the camera moves, we are prepared for a grim discovery. Our expectations are played with some more. The more the horror is muted, the more unsettling it becomes.
The control behind the camera is mesmerizing. It is most mindful of timing: when to zoom in on a face to capture extreme emotions like aggression and grief as well as when to turn our attention on groups of people moving together–or staying in one spot–in order to communicate perspective-dependent ideas like solidarity and monstrosity. Most effective are the close-ups of Florya’s face when the story is just beginning in comparison to how he looks after he has gone through unimaginable horrors. It is almost like two different people: one brimming with energy and is relentless in proving himself worthy of a place in a group while the other looks really tired and just about ready to die. While the makeup helps, the story is in the eyes. Kravchenko is an excellent fit for the role.
Despite the many horrors on screen, what I will remember most is the scene with the cow in the middle of an open field that is drenched in fog. Eventually there is a crossfire and the cow is hit. Florya has no choice but to stick as close to the ground as possible. Night passes and the protagonist wakes next to a carcass. But since it is his mission to get food for the starving villagers, he becomes so desperate that he tries to lift the dead cow starting with its hind legs. I was shocked with what I saw. I was convinced it was a real cow especially in seeing the adjacent muscles that respond when the legs are lifted and then dropped on the ground.
“Come and See,” based on the screenplay by Ales Adamovich and Elem Klimov, may repel some audiences because it starts off quite slow. But give it time. Once in the groove of the unpredictable narrative, it becomes a challenge not to be curious about what might happen next. Some content might be difficult to sit through at times but it is photographed so beautifully, it is impossible not to admire the craft behind the story of a very bleak time in history and the madness within.