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Review: Unsparing and Brutal, 'Come And See' Is A Rare War Film

by Sam Cohen
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Jun 30, 2020
Review: Unsparing and Brutal, 'Come And See' Is A Rare War Film

It seems like every year we get a big, bloated prestige Hollywood war film that's heralded for its harrowing content and graphic presentation of violence. Yet, it's works like "Come and See" that push the envelope of violent and harrowing content even further, resulting in devastating filmmaking that's rarely matched. Shot in stunningly smooth, amoral Steadicam compositions and split diopter shots that posit that the evils of war exist throughout the entire frame, Elem Klimov's 1985 epic is still just as disturbing and bone-shaking as it was on initial release.

Recently restored in 2K by Mosfilm and presented here in 1080p by the Criterion Collection, the new Blu-ray of "Come and See" is essential both in its exhibition of cinema history and depiction of humanity becoming corrupted by power. Plus, the included special features shine a light on what's so groundbreaking about the film and its place in history.

"Come and See" concerns Flyora (Aleksey Kravchenko), a teenage Belarusian partisan who joins the resistance movement against Nazi Germany during WWII, only to find a world of hell and demoralization. I'd liken the story to a waking nightmare, with our main characters stumbling between atrocity upon atrocity, finally arriving at a destination that changes him forever.

The thing about big, bloated war epics that depict the violence of war is that they're frequently a bit too sanitized, choosing to emphasize performance over reality. "Come and See" is almost the opposite, as it throws the viewer knee-deep into some of the most challenging, angry situations ever committed to celluloid. If you find yourself becoming physically ill during the film, that's normal.

Elem Klimov was one of Russia's most talented filmmakers, although he didn't have that many films to his name. Much like Sergei Eisenstein and Mikhail Kalatozov, Klimov understands that politics are at the center of cinema: Every image you create can carry both textual and subtextual material that is left up to the viewer to interpret. While "Come and See" makes it very clear that the Nazis were bad, the story is much more obsessed with charting the mental degradation of youth in the face of war. If power and violence can corrupt, then the film is partly about how a boy's misplaced sense of national pride will be his inevitable downfall.

There's a terrific interview with cinematographer Roger Deakins as he waxes nostalgic about a time when war movies like this one carried a weight that so many modern efforts do not - which is a tad ironic, coming from the man who shot "1917," a film that uses similar Steadicam technology used in "Come and See" to a much lesser effect. This release comes highly recommended; just be ready for one of the most stressful viewing experiences of your lifetime.

Other special features include:

• New interview with director Elem Klimov's brother and frequent collaborator German Klimov
• "Flaming Memory," a three-film documentary series from 1975-77 by filmmaker Viktor Dashuk, featuring firsthand accounts of survivors of the genocide in Belorussia during World War II
• Interview from 2001 with Elem Klimov
• Interviews from 2001 with actor Alexei Kravchenko and production designer Viktor Petrov
• "How "Come and See" Was Filmed," a 1985 short film about the making of the film featuring interviews with Elem Klimov, Kravchenko, and writer Ales Adamovich
• Theatrical rerelease trailer
• Booklet essays by critic Mark Le Fanu and poet Valzhyna Mort

"Come and See"
Criterion Collection Blu-ray

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