Posts Tagged ‘Come and See’

#24 – Come and See

Sunday, April 21st, 2013 | Greg Herman

Come and See (Idi i smotri) (1985) – directed by Elem Klimov

Country: Russia

Runtime: 136 mins

Availability: Good luck finding this one


Elem Klimov’s 1985 Soviet war drama, Come and See, had a profound effect on me and left me visibly shaken. This film is set in World War II and follows a young boy named Fliora as he joins the Soviet ranks and undergoes the Nazi occupation of the Soviet Union. I’m having difficulty explaining what this movie’s about without giving anything away, but this film immediately sets the viewer up as being emotionally tied to Fliora (played by an incredible young actor named Aleksey Kravchenko) and his naivete concerning what war is. The film then destroys the character slowly, and the viewer watches in horror as the events unfold. Come and See is now one of my favorite films of all time—and has replaced Full Metal Jacket as my favorite war film—but it is so devastating and harrowing that I will never watch it again. It does not shy away from the horrors inflicted upon the Soviet townspeople at the hands of the Nazis, but rather it engages with them more honestly and brutally than I have ever seen before in any work, fictional or documentary. Come and See is a masterpiece.

To ease this tension a bit, let me give some quick background information on a common feature of world cinema films: the inability to sync lips moving with the dialogue emitted from the soundtrack. Contrary to popular belief (I think it’s popular belief, anyway), movies that we see in the theater are created on two separate channels: audio and visual. When a movie is being made, these two aspects are recorded separately and are combined in post-production, i.e. the editing room, to create a seamless product. In my opinion, this is a large aspect of keeping the illusion of film intact. When I first started watching foreign films, it was unacceptable when the spoken words didn’t sync with the image on screen. I often saw it as a marker of a film made on a cheap budget or short production schedule. Interestingly enough, most other countries don’t really care so much about this synchronization of their films. They are so used to it that they don’t notice it or see it as an issue. Spaghetti westerns—Italian films that use the genre conventions of American westerns—are particularly remarkable in this sense. For example, in Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (starring Clint Eastwood), many of the actors couldn’t even speak English, so they would count to 10 in Spanish instead of saying their lines and get dubbed over later. I raise this synchronization debate because Come and See is guilty of it. While it’s not egregious throughout most of the movie, it is noticeable.

Let’s go back to the actual movie, Come and See. As war films often do, this film has two central themes: naivete surrounding war (especially by children) and unintended casualties that inevitably result from the destruction. Come and See begins with a cold open (a technique that involves a movie or TV show beginning immediately before credits or a title sequence) in which two kids play war and dig for a gun in the sand so that they can fight alongside the Soviet forces. They have glorified the image of the soldier in their mind and have been conditioned to want to fight for their country. However, children are especially impressionable and latch onto ideas more readily than adults. They are kept in the dark about the vastly horrific aspects of war and are even more disillusioned by the actual experience than they would have been otherwise. Come and See explores this idea masterfully, and Fliora’s emotional devastation is reflected in his physical appearance as he looks like a wrinkled and crippled 70-year-old man by the end of the film. Unintended casualties are found in abundance in this film. While running away from his soldier campground early in the film, Fliora steps on a bird’s nest on the ground and crushes all of the eggs. In the next shot that shows the eggs, they are already swarming with flies. Animals dying and being covered by flies is a recurring motif, and it never ceases to be incredibly unnerving. Because of its ability to express these tried-and-true war themes in efficient and innovative ways, Come and See is the ultimate anti-war film.

I’m going to do my best to talk about the sound in the film because Come and See has one of the greatest soundtracks I have ever heard. When I say “soundtrack,” I am including music as well as dialogue, background noise and sound effects. Sound is one of the most salient ways that the film makes the viewer identify with Fliora. Thirty-five minutes into the film, there is a string of enormous explosions that Fliora gets caught up in. The sound of the explosions gradually becomes replaced by a loud ringing noise, and the viewer immediately understands that they are experiencing this through Fliora’s mind (a technique used as recently as in Roman Polanski’s 2002 film The Pianist). Throughout the rest of this film, this ringing will return periodically in tense situations to remind the viewer of this first experience and connect it to Fliora’s emotions as the events of the film unfold. It’s a unique way to give the viewer the subjective point of view of Fliora. The boy is left partially deaf throughout the rest of the movie, and his helplessness is both visual in the image of the film itself and auditory. Other impressive sound techniques used include layering the sound of screams with the sound of a raging fire and uplifting classical music. This film does a great job of disorienting the senses, just as war does.

There are many more things that I would like to talk about with this film, including the most harrowing scene ever captured on film, the use of laughter as a defense mechanism and the frequent direct address of the audience through breaking the fourth wall, but I’ll leave it at that for now.

Come and See is not for the faint of heart. It is one of my favorite films of all time, but I would never watch it again. I have seen numerous very disturbing films in my career as a film student, and nothing has ever hit me as hard as this film has. This is one of the greatest achievements in (anti-)war drama I have ever come across, and I highly recommend it to everyone who is mildly interested in World War II, the effects of warfare on children and nature, or the psychology of a soldier. Come and See is a film that has affected me greatly, and I will never forget the emotional experience I underwent as I watched it.


Funniest line – Random soldier: “Don’t tickle me, or my fart is going to flatten Europe.”

(There are apparently a lot of fart jokes in world cinema)


Most memorable line – German soldier: “Not every race has a right to exist. Inferior races spread the contagion of communism. You have no right to be. And our mission will be accomplished. If not today, tomorrow.”


Check in next week for the review of the 1973 Spanish film The Spirit of the Beehive. I’ve never heard of it nor have I seen many Spanish films, so this will be a new experience for all of us. And good news! It’s on YouTube: The Spirit of the Beehive. I’d love for you guys to watch it so we can talk about it in the comments. Question the things I say and call me out when I’m being too dumb or pompous about something.