The final, and perhaps the most prominently known film of director Elem Klimov, Come and See throws us right into the middle of a story of survival. We follow a young boy as he comes to terms with the Second World War, his fight for mental and physical durability told in unflinching detail as we make our way through muddy fields, war-torn villages and paranoid people. Soviet Russian film depictions of this period of history are always truly grim, in a visually rewarding, yet emotionally rattling way. Come and See is no exception to that fact, and it’s by far one of the greatest examples of this time period I’ve ever come across. A story of child soldiers, swayed by not only patriotism, but a basic instinct of survival, a fight or flight response.
We open on two children rummaging through the sand, a former trench. Buried underneath are guns, ammunition, and soldiers. To enlist in the army, all you need is a rifle, and that’s very much what we find our leading character, Flyora (Aleksei Kravchenko), doing just that. He finds himself a sand-clogged rifle, and the very next day is enlisted to join the fight against Nazi Germany, to defend the homeland of Mother Russia. Perhaps my leniency with this film comes from my fascination with this period of history, and my brief, two-year study of the post-war impact gives the film that much more in a sense of realism and effectiveness.
Kravchenko’s leading role is astounding, one of the best performances from a young actor that I’ve ever seen. He commands the screen with emotive expression, it seems to come to him with such incredible ease. Perhaps it’s because there was no filter of happier, light moments in Come and See, it’s very much a barrage of misery from beginning to end. A story of survival that questions whether or not survival is really worth it in the end. It certainly doesn’t look worth it anyway, as Flyora finds himself on the receiving end of a cataclysmic series of events, all of which throttle and churn his mental state.
Klimov’s direction is well worth the mention also. He somehow manages to find beautiful tracking shots and establishing moments within the destructive, dirty nature of warfare. The glimmers of hope throughout are few and far between, and it’s not until our character finds himself away from the safety of a group or in the fallout of a tense moment that we really begin to appreciate the few moments of calm.
Unlike anything I have ever seen before, Come and See is a real masterclass in post-war storytelling. Perhaps the greatest of all the Russian offerings from this time, surpassing its contemporaries, counterparts and inspirations with ease as it depicts an unrelenting, harrowing period of world history. A must-see for anyone with even the vaguest of interest in the Second World War and the horrors that took place during it.