I’ve never done drugs before in my life (outside of the legal drugs that keep my uncle’s kidney from rejecting my body), so i have no reference to stuff like heroine and cocaine, but still, i can only describe watching Elem Klimov’s Tarkovsky’s inspired masterpiece; ‘Come and See’ as the cinematic equivalent of doing coke & heroine at the same time. The film mixes intensity (cocaine) with a trippy atmosphere (heroine) that gives an unsettling and disoriented feeling that’ll leave you thinking about it long after you’ve watched it (at least that’s how i feel every time i watch it). And what makes the film even more disorienting is its experimental soundtrack that mixes up-beat classic music, random creepy vocal samples and synthesizers. There’s plenty of non-violent (or minimal violent) war films ranging from ‘dr. strangelove’ to ‘overlord’, but ‘Come and See’ might be one of the few great VIOLENT anti-war films around. In ‘Come and See’, 14 year old “Florya” is drafted in to the Russian army during WW2. Whats odd is that he’s actually quite eager to go. After he gets caught in the middle of an air raid, an explosion temporarily deafens him. As the film goes on and our 14 year old protagonist witnesses the horrors of war firsthand (the slaughter of his family and the wrath of the nazi’s to be specific), he slowly loses his mind. Not only does the audience experience war from the perspective of a such a young character, be we also get a non-American/non-Jewish perspective about Nazi’s which isn’t exactly rare, but it isn’t very common for Americans either. There’s so many scenes in the film where you feel like Florya is going to have a nervous breakdown and literally explode. In one scene, made even more intense thanks to the soundtrack, Florya tries his best to suppress the fact that his family has been killed. When he finally comes to accept it, he pretty much loses his mind for a short period of time. And what he experiences and sees in the last 30-40 minutes of the film alone (the nazi’s slaughtering innocent women and children by locking them in a giant barn and setting it on fire) is enough to to drive anyone insane. I’m surprised the young first time lead actor didn’t have a real nervous breakdown playing this part. From never acting in your life, to being cast as the lead in one of the most physically and mentally draining film ever must take a toll on you. In fact, the actor who played Florya stated that when the film was finished, he went back to school with grey hairs. There’s also a lot of crazy rumors surrounding the making of the film like real bullets being used in a gun during one scene and actors literally having to be hypnotized in order to get through the filming of other scenes. I don’t know about that (sounds like a “herzog pulling a gun on klaus kinski”-type rumor), but i imagine the making of this film must have taken a lot out of everyone involved, much like another classic war film did to its cast & crew: ‘Apocolypse Now’. In fact, Elem Klimov didn’t make another film after ‘Come & See’
Tarkovsky’s influence is all over ‘Come and See’. From Florya’s mother’s dramatic plea for him not to join the army (which is right out of the beginning of ‘Stalker’ where we see the main characters wife pleading with him not to leave) to the awesome steady cam style that ‘Come and See’ is shot in which is reminiscent of the camera work in ‘The Mirror’. ‘Come and See’ is just one of the many modern Russian films that proves how influential Andrei Tarkovsky really is (see ‘4’, ‘The Ascent’ or just about anything by Alexander Sokurov for further examples of his influence).
Anyone who reads this blog should know that a good portion of the movies i talk about on here fall in to the “coming of age” genre (the spirit of the beehive, u.s. go home, ratcatcher, george washington, etc). But out of all the films that i just mentioned, ‘Come and See’ is the only coming of age tale where the young main character not only changes internally (like ana in spirit of the beehive or martine in u.s go home), but externally as well. In the short period of time that this film covers, our 14 year old main character goes from looking like a regular young kid at the beginning of the film, to an adult by the very end of the film due to the stress that the war has had on him. He looks like an old man trapped in the body of a teenager equip with wrinkles on his face and disgusting bags under his eyes. It almost looks like a different actor. Through out the film, our young main character witnesses mass murder, rape, goes deaf and finds his entire village murdered. Naturally that’s gonna transform someone, especially someone so young.
And speaking of faces, the many close-up shots of the characters in ‘Come and See’ always express some deep intense agony or some deep polarizing stare directly in to the camera. Part of whats so great about the performances in the film is that the actors don’t always have to rely on words to convey their message. Just a simple look gets the point across in many cases.
The imagery in ‘Come and See’ is pretty unique and kinda random for a war film. In the midst of the all violence and chaos, Klimov makes it a point to focus the camera on random shit like an attractive female Nazi officer eating something very sexually. She seems completely out of place, but the way she looks at the camera kinda hypnotizes the viewer, and you cant help but stare at her (at least i cant). The same thing goes Klimov’s focus on animals through out the film. He makes it a point to show these little animals that have absolutely nothing to do with war, but just like the sexy female nazi officer, it catches our attention. I mean really, how random is it that during a mass murder the camera focuses on a Nazi General having an intimate moment with his pet or a close-up of a cow’s eye rolling around in its head after its been murdered?
And like any war film there’s a lot of disturbing and haunting imagery. But ‘Come and See’ kinda goes a little further than stuff like ‘Saving Private Ryan’ or even ‘Full Metal Jacket’. From the shot of the young Russian girl with blood running down her legs after she’s been raped, or the quick shot of Florya’s entire village stacked up behind his house like pieces of wood after they’ve been killed, and of course the iconic scene of the film where, amidst all the madness, a group of Nazi’s stop to take a picture with a gun (that supposedly had real bullets in it so that the actors would be more tense as the scene was shot) pointed at Florya’s head.