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  • Writer's picturePerrin Faerch

Classics Review: Come and See (1985)

Updated: Apr 16, 2021

Original Review Date: 29 May 2020

Some films have the ability to rock you to your core, embedding itself into your mind and eventually inviting you to come back for more; unpacking every single nuanced detail and message the film has to offer. Then there are films like Come and See (1985); films that completely tear its subjects apart in agonizing and traumatizing circumstances that doesn’t want to invite you back, but dares you to make it to the end.

Come and See follows Florya, a Belarusian teenager eager to join the rebel forces in their fight against the invading Nazi forces in 1943. Once he finally makes it in, he befriends a young girl by the name of Olga, only to be left behind with her as the partisans go off to fight. With nowhere else to go, they return to his village only to find them all massacred and begin to descend into a nightmarish hell as they cling on to survive.

War films often glamourize the impact and imagery of war. Heroism, good triumphing over evil, guts and glory, etc. Come and See does none of that. Instead, it opts for a devastating attack on the senses as we see the innocence that once existed in Florya and Olga vanish before our very eyes. Aleksei Kravchenko as Florya is one of the most visceral performances ever caught on film, and he was only 16 when filming wrapped. We witness every shred of innocence and sanity he has whither away with his youthful appearance, by the time the credits roll, he is a completely different human utterly destroyed by the horrors of war and genocide.

Elem Klimov’s direction of the set pieces allows us to feel this way. We very rarely are given a break from moment to moment, creating a sensory overload that has us feeling the highs and lows in Florya’s moments of joy, youthfulness, fear, trauma and eventually seething rage. The gliding Steadicam work lensed by Aleksei Rodionov gives us the feverish dreamlike look and feel of Florya’s journey and is a shining example of how to shoot the genre effectively.

A final sequence of wish fulfillment looks to undo the wrongs of the past, only to quickly remind us that this can never be undone. It is one of the most powerful and sombre moments in cinematic history, and once seen, it is impossible to forget.

You can stream Come and See over at The Criterion Channel.

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