Friday, December 27, 2019

Throwback Review - Come and See

Come and See (1985) 

Come and See is the most hyper-realistic and visceral WWII movie I've ever seen. It's brutal and unflinching. It assaults your senses in an unrelenting fashion and when it's done, you'll be exhausted, mentally and physically. It might also be the most important anti-war film ever produced.

Roger Ebert famously called movies "Empathy Machines" he meant a way to experience lives and perspectives we otherwise could not, or in the case of Come and See, those we pray not to. The film is set in Nazi occupied Belarus in 1943 and focuses on the horrific events witnessed by a teenage Belarusian Partisan (Resistance fighter) named, Flyora, played by Aleksei Kravchenko.

Kravchenko's performance is haunting and surreal. The amount of acting he does with just his eyes is more brilliant than most people achieve with pages of dialogue. Ever since I've seen it I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. The sheer emotion he channels into the role is overwhelming. He goes through a psychological gauntlet and comes out the other side completely transformed. Whether intentional or not at the end it appears as if he's aged 50 years. At the films start he's an eager and courageous kid. With dreams of heroism and a desire to defend his homeland from an occupying force. When older Partisans conscript him to be a part of the resisting force, we get the sense that he couldn't be more elated. Those feelings are quickly washed away by the realities of a brutal war. Flyora is quickly tempered by the experiences, one after another in an unrelenting beatdown of his psyche. Each one aging him more than the last. By the end he's a hardened veteran with a thousand yard stare. Filled with enough visions of horror to occupy his nightmares for the rest of his life. I truly think that his performance is among the best I've ever seen, no hyperbole here, its transcendent. Watch it and I dare you to disagree.

The music that accompanies the affecting visuals is just as punishing as anything else in this film. It erupts and roars pounding itself into you like a salvo of explosives from German dive bombers. It complete envelops you and in parts I felt as if I was being assaulted. One scene in particular takes place in a bog, the fear and claustrophobia I felt were real, the movie had invaded my senses and I was completely distressed, the relief I felt when it let up was palpable. Very rarely have I experienced that in a movie, and although it might not sound like it, I was grateful for the feeling it gave me. I definitely subscribe to Ebert's "Empathy Machine" theory.

This really is one of the most devastating and sobering looks at war I've ever seen. It is ruthless in it's mission to depict the abhorrent atrocities humans are capable of. In fact, I learned in the research for this piece that Come and See had to fight eight years of censorship from the Soviet authorities before the film was finally allowed to be produced in its entirety. Russian cinema holds absolutely nothing back. War is seen in all of it's unattractive and savage nature. There is no heroics or redemption arcs here. It must be stated however that the film rarely, if ever, uses abundant gore or excessive bloodletting as a crutch to convey the violence. It instead relies on historical accurate events to speak for themselves. There have been no scarier monsters in this world than human beings and the film reminds us of that constantly. I truly think cinema of this honesty and realism needs to be shown to as many as possible. I believe film can be used for a much greater purpose than just entertainment. I'm hard pressed to think of a better way to convey the horrors and terror that the past possess, and the past is something we need reminded of continually.

The last 45 minutes of Come and See are infamous and I won't spoil anything here, but I realized as I was watching it that my entire body was tense. I was literally sore after watching this to its conclusion. I will say that if you are the kind of person that requires a cathartic or uplifting ending you've come to the wrong place. The best we get is a respite from the assaulting soundtrack the film has provided up until this point, replaced instead with a beautiful piece of Mozart. It's the only part of the film that resembles hope. Please do not let the brutal and realistic nature of this movie dissuade you from experiencing this masterpiece of Russian filmmaking. I'm warning you it won't be easy, but just as Flyora does, you'll come out the otherside transformed.

 There are movies, there are films, and then there is Come and See.

So a little postscript here, this movie is not easy to find. I had to pay for a subscription to the Criterion Channel to watch. However, there are so many more movies to enjoy and experience on the service that I fully endorse paying the price to see them. 

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