Film Review: Come and See (1985)

As I write this, I’m sitting at my desk with a cup of herbal tea, a warm blanket around my shoulders, and Stan Getz playing on my headphones. I’m not generally a super chill person anyway, but I certainly am checking off a lot of boxes you might find on an article titled something condescending like, “Stressed? Here Are 20 ~Magical~ Ways You Can Chill Out, Baby.” Why? I’m writing this a couple hours after watching Come and See, the 1985 Soviet film, oft referred to as one of the greatest anti-war movies ever put out. 

The final film directed by Elem Klimov, Come and See tells the story of Florya (Aleksei Kravchenko), a young boy living in Belarus in 1943. Hoping to join the Soviet army and defend his country against the approaching Nazi forces, Florya looks around his village for an abandoned rifle. He eventually finds one, and is quickly whisked away by a pair of soldiers despite his mother’s pleas. Florya is anything but scared; he goes with a grin on his face and a longing to serve in his heart. His romanticized visions of war won’t last long. 

What works so well for the film is the way it blends extreme realism and surrealism; it gives a gritty and honest look at the horrors of war, but will often lean just enough into artistic techniques for more emphasis than just a bare-bones look could give. The realism is most present in both the screenplay itself and the way the violence of the war is portrayed onscreen. The latter is especially true, considering live rounds were actually used in multiple scenes for authenticity’s sake (including a scene involving a cow being taken down by machine guns). In addition to literally having bullets fly over his head whilst filming, Aleksei Kravchenko adhered to a minimalistic diet and even almost got hypnotized for the more violent scenes, as Elem Klimov thought the depictions of fictional violence could lead to very genuine psychological problems for the boy (can’t imagine why). 

But even with the authenticity dial turned up to 11, Come and See further exaggerates its portrayal of war with just enough surrealism sprinkled on top; it’s not necessarily an art film, but it certainly rides the line, and effectively. The soundtrack from Oleg Yanchenko drones itself overtop the majority of the film, giving tension during the more disturbing scenes, and, somehow, even more tension during the sequences where many audiences would have a chance to catch their breath. In addition, the emphasized noise of insects and other natural ambience certainly gives the film one of the most anxiety-ridden uses of sound in cinema history. Whenever dialogue runs between two characters, limited though it may be, the camera swaps between the two actors in close-up shots, giving the impression that each is speaking directly to the camera itself — surprisingly and impressively immersive. 

The finale is equally impressive. A very purposeful montage of clips plays itself at lightning speed to the bombastic sound of Richard Wagner, all while Florya’s trauma (and Kravchenko’s performance) reaches its inevitable climax. While the entire film does a great job of visual storytelling, this montage altogether encapsulates hatred, despair, hopelessness, and eventually, agonizing realization and acceptance; awe-inspiring both in its characterization and its general storytelling.

There’s a reason Come and See is considered by many to be the closest cinema has ever been to capturing the true horrors of war. It’s not a horror movie, but only because calling it ‘horror’ would be a vast understatement of its profound impact. The only appropriate comparisons I could draw to the devastation this film captures are the likes of The Pianist or Schindler’s List… even then, Come and See may be truly incomparable. 

Overall rating: 9/10

Published by Jeremy Bader

Aspiring writer, film and music lover, drummer.

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