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Come And See (1985) - Elem Klimov // Movie Night

I don't know why I willingly subject myself to disturbing and bleak films. Antichrist, A Serbian Film, Gummo, Oldboy and the like. Fortunately each of those films (with the exception of A Serbian Film; seriously, don't watch it) are incredible works by phenomenal directors. Elem Klimov's Come and See is no different.

Come and See is a 1985 Russian film about Nazi-perpetrated war crimes during World Ward II. Young Florya, our main character (seen above), driven by a romantic's view of the glory of battle, retrieves an old rifle from a dead body buried in sand due to a recent shelling by the Axis powers. Now that he is acceptably equipped for his journey towards honor, or perhaps martyrdom, Florya enlists and leaves his family; a family made distraught by his seeming abandonment. What follows is one of the most upsetting and visceral experiences I have had with a film.

The first thing that jumps out about this film is Klimov's decision to have his actors perform directly into camera, giving us a through-line of discomfort as well as a true connection to our protagonist. Despite one hundred years of filmmaking, the simple decision to play shot-reverse-shot conversations INSIDE the actual conversation and with the actor staring into the unforgiving eye of the camera really evolves the work in an extremely difficult to pull off way. I can only imagine that seeing their own reflection in the lens added to the performances of trauma the cast endured. (Interesting side note: the director pursued hypnosis for his, then fourteen year old, lead [Aleksei Kravchenko] to protect his mind from his own performance. He was not susceptible to the treatment)

The true power of Come and See is not what is on screen (although every shot is composed with a horrifying beauty) but the sound design. The audience was already connected with each character through their fourth-wall breaking and the layering of sound furthers us into the psyche of Florya. A good 45 minutes of the film plays with the audio in a way mimicking his hearing loss after having an explosion go off near his head. You know it's truly a bold move by the filmmaker when you check your TV, thinking it was the cause of the garbled audio. The only way I figured out that it was a conscious choice was by being drawn further into the experience and picking apart the sound mic in my head to realize that some of the diagetic sounds were clean while the dialogue was not. I do not think I can accurately explain the brilliance of this film.

Come and See is one of the most effective (and affective) films I have ever seen and I hop I never subject myself to the unique horror that Klimov rips directly from reality and lays bare on screen.

(btw, switching between such a delightful film as Good Morning to such a bleak film as this, is a strange phenomenon that I’m only able to do as a film major. I don’t know whether I like the specific style of The Bends I give myself.)


St. Louis, Missouri