Saturday 4 August 2018

1,001 Films: "Come and See" (1985)

Come and See remains one of the most effective anti-war movies ever made, less for any artistic control (which is debatable) than for the mad, naive conviction that sees it veer from the utterly brilliant to the near-unwatchable on almost a minute-by-minute basis. Byelorussia, 1943: a young boy happily signs up to fight the Nazis, expecting to do right by his mother and his twin sisters and become a hero to his people. Instead, he's summarily orphaned, deafened and forced to swim through shit; he witnesses every last one of his travelling companions (including, in one remarkable sequence, a cow) being put to death; and - at the very last - he finds himself unable to pull the trigger the one time it would have mattered, in a moment of complete and utter impotence. Lead actor Alexei Kravchenko, who appears to age around fifty years in the course of this two-hour twenty minute movie, had to undergo hypnotherapy at the end of it all; see the film, and that will come as no surprise.

Technically, at least, the film is a wonder. (A one-hit wonder, perhaps; Klimov, who died in 2003, would never direct again.) Forestry explodes in a fashion not even Coppola could contrive for Apocalypse Now. Firefights rage across the full expanse of the screen. Viktor Mors' sound design replicates exactly what it is to be shell-shocked, lost both inside your own head and the wider world. The film has been put together in such a way that it cannot fail to get to you, one way or another: a cast with real mania in their eyes stare madly or disbelievingly into the camera lens, imploring us to listen to what they're saying (if you can hear them) and look at the horrors they've encountered. (The title is an invitation to a monstrous headache.) It's roughly as subtle as an atom bomb, which is the point (war, in this sense, takes no prisoners), the source of its power and energy, and a serious limitation to its potential as involving drama, because you soon work out events can only accelerate downhill. And they do.

Klimov makes like a kid in the war-crime candy store. Why ask your characters to find a route around a cesspit, when you can make them swim through it? When villages are being torched (with the villagers trapped inside), why not set the whole sequence to a soundtrack of Tyrolean yodelling? Why not blow up a cow? And why not top everything off with newsreel footage of horribly emaciated concentration camp inmates? (Though the final reversal of this newsreel - so that the bombs climb back into the planes, and the Nazis go into retreat - is an inspired example of movie wish-fulfilment.) Rivalled only by Pasolini's Salò in its assembly of horrible sights, it's an extraordinary experience - once seen, never forgotten, as they say - although I've never entirely been convinced by its more enthusiastic supporters' claims for its greatness: once seen may be enough. Pitched at a level of perpetual hysteria that suggests what Emir Kusturica would have made of WW2 material, it's guaranteed to leave an impression at least - but all's very noisy on this particular Eastern front.

Come and See is available to stream via Filmstruck. 

No comments:

Post a Comment