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  • 15
  • Drama, War
  • 1985
  • 142 mins

Come And See

Come And See


A Second World War film made in 1985, as the Soviet Empire was itself on the verge of collapse, showing the horrors endured by the population of Byelorussia


Byelorussia (aka White Russia, now Belarus) was on the frontier between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Empire in World War II and suffered terribly. It was occupied by the Nazis, became the scene of fierce partisan fighting and then became a hotly contested section of the eastern front. Before the German army finally retreated, the SS burned more than 600 villages. Thousands of civilians were massacred, young and old, able and infirm alike.

Come And See focuses on 13-year-old Florya (Kravchenko) as he staggers through these terrors. After digging a gun out of the sand where it lies buried with a dead soldier, the young boy leaves his mother and twin sisters, still happy and smiling. The partisans leave him behind when they march off to battle, hoping to preserve his innocence, but there's no such luck for Florya. After getting caught in an air raid (an incredible sequence where the trees around the actor are blown out of the ground), he returns home to find his family has been murdered. He's then captured when hiding in another village and witnesses further butchery.

There is no gung-ho action here, there are no uplifting stories of daring and cunning. It's all about the pity and horror of war. The unwavering direction of Elem Klimov and the pyrotechnics of his actors and effects people are made all the more potent by the knowledge that the terrible events shown in the film have a firm foundation in reality. There's a whiff of Soviet propaganda in the depiction of the fearless partisans (although that, of course, is fascinating in its own right) and nothing here could be accused of being subtle, but, then there's nothing subtle about war either, and this is still a singularly powerful film.

Events that are already painful to watch are given yet more emotional intimacy thanks to lead actor Kravchenko. He rarely has to say anything - terror and grief are conveyed well enough by the expression on his quickly ageing face. His supporting actors are impressive too, right down to the dozens of wailing women played by local extras, many of whom had lived through the war.

There's some reprieve from the brutality in the eerie calm of the blasted wintry Byelorussian landscape, and a few beautiful near silent sequences (although these are generally still suffused with menace, most notably in some ghostly shots of paratroopers drifting down from the sky and later of heavy armour moving through the morning mist). But most of the time this is an aural and aesthetic assault. The majority of the action is unremittingly ugly and it's here that Klimov and cameraman Aleksei Rodionov's ability to capture such images has its biggest impact. The final massacre and its shocking aftermath must rank amongst the most disturbing moments in cinema history.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Victor Lorentz, Olga Mironova, Aleksei Kravchenko, Lyubomiras Lautsiavitchus, Vladas Bagdonas
  • Director: Elem Klimov
  • Writer: Elem Klimov, Ales Adamovich
  • Producer: Victor Petrov
  • Photographer: Alexi Rodionov
  • Composer: Oleg Yanchenko

In a nutshell

This is a real horror film - it's painful to watch and there's no escape through thinking it's only a movie - and it's correspondingly impressive.

by Sam Jordison

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