Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Seeing Is Believing

Idi i smotri(Come And See)(1985)
Directed By Elem Klimov
Come And See is the best war film ever made. Throughout the film we watch a young boy enthusiastically dig out a gun buried in the earth and join up with his countrymen to fight off the Nazi invasion, only to have his boyhood fantasies of heroism, literally burnt alive. The young actor Aleksei Kravchenko looks nearly unrecognizable by film's end; the bags under his eyes have bags under their eyes. We observe the war entirely from his position, where a girl majestically dancing in a rainstorm can transition without warning to bombs falling on a forest camp.The boy tries to leave his company at one point, and return to his village. When he left his mother gave him his rifle and said, "You might as well shoot us now. We'll die if you leave." Though we never find out one way or the other, his house is abandoned and he assumes the worst. The boy's ears are damaged from the bombs and going deaf and perhaps mad with grief, he wades out into a bog.He finds himself in another village where he hides amongst a group of farmers he was planning to rob. The Nazis show up and begin the round up for a massacre. We watch what happens first hand, like a Nazi officer's girlfriend shown eating lobster as a barn full of people is set on fire. The boy gets a chance at revenge, but it doesn't change anything. The film closes with the boy firing at a statue of Hitler, and here the film plays documentary footage of the war flowing backward, the bombs go back into the sky, the people come out of the cattle cars, the goose-stepping parades flow in reverse, until finally we reach an image of Hitler as a baby. The next shot is of the boys withered face as if hes looking at the photograph too, realizing that even Hitler was young and innocent as he was once, and likewise Once Upon A Time went off to fight for country. No war film has ever left me so drained, and the only other film that goes into as much brutal detail of victimization is maybe Gaspar Noe's Irreversible (love it or hate it, in that film you go through an emotional experience). The Russian's suffered the greatest casualties in WW2, more than any of the allies or the Axis powers and depending on how you arrange them, more than some nations put together.Their tightening cultural grip came as the result of the tremendous scar of the War, much the way Germany became brutal after their losses in World War 1. Elem Klimov captures war as a universal psychological scar, where demonization and glorification only amount to momentary denials of its terrible scale and depth. There was no place to root for the hero, only a skeletal hope that he would survive, though at times you think he might be better off if he didn't. Visually it's similar to a Andrei Tarkovsky or Bella Tar over the shoulder long walks and slow pans style. There are no real shoot outs; the war is a presence either felt as sudden bombs or swarms of Nazi's barking command. Come and See is a surreal, disturbing, and intense coming of age film, hypnotic and horrific in equal parts. Director Elem Klimov never made another film after it saying, "everything you could do with cinema I had already done."Though at the other end of the spectrum Quinten Tarantino's Inglorious Bustards shows you can teach an old dog some new tricks, Come and See is for realistic war films as good as I could possibly imagine a World War 2 or any War film could be.

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