Review of Come and See (1985)

Moving picture, 142 minutes

A Belarusian boy digs up an abandoned rifle to join the partisans in his home province. The year is 1943. However, the might of the Nazis is greater than he thinks. While he is left behind by the veterans of his unit, villages are being erased. Einsatzgruppen carry out atrocities in a dreamlike, drunken state of psychosis. The boy stumbles through hell, losing his mind at the heart of a war that could go on forever, or end the world. What would it take to eradicate the eradicators?

An artful high-budget war film titled after the Christian Revelation 6:1: “I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures saying, with voice like thunder, Come and see.”

After making this unrelenting, uncomprehending descent into psychologically invasive genocidal brutality, the director retired, apparently feeling that he had exhausted the possibilities of the medium. He was not far off the mark.

There are no battles in this war movie. Disjointed episodes on the personal scale gradually and brilliantly paint a picture of that gigantic Stanford prison experiment called war, though the film is ultimately ambiguous about the generality of what it shows. It ends with grey-haired young Florya silently catching up to the other young men at the tail end of his Kosach platoon, to march through the winter at ground zero. One quarter of the entire population of Belarus was killed in WW2. That’s proportionally more than any other country, because the Nazis had designated it for German settlement.

The production demonstrates the virtues of a linear shooting schedule with live ammunition. Florya’s Butō-like facial contortions look best without makeup. The Soviets are portrayed as much less bestial than the Nazis; no wonder, since it is their land, and a Soviet production. The concluding reverse montage, which I heard about from an awesome high school history teacher who showed “Der Fuehrer’s Face” (1942), doesn’t really bring the focus back to where it belongs: the effects of war, be it under Hitler or Stalin. Instead, it proceeds in the direction of theodicy, apparently posing the question “Would killing Hitler as a child have prevented this, and would it have been as bad?” The audiovisual implementation is top notch, but the question is a ludicrous way to distingush Florya from the Nazis by his moral superiority.

References here: The Winter War (1989), Ida (2013), Beasts of No Nation (2015), Violet Evergarden (2018), 1917 (2019).

moving picture fiction