Come and See AKA Idi i smotri (1985)
R2 - United Kingdom - Nouveaux Pictures
Review written by and copyright: Jari Kovalainen (12th July 2006).
The Film

When Nazi Germany launched their “Operation Barbarossa” - invasion on the Soviet Union - in 1941, it eventually would be the major turning point of the whole of World War II from both military and civilian points of view. It started the massive campaign that would be later referred to simply as the “Eastern Front”, and which after a huge success turned into a slow and bitter defeat for Germany when the tables turned in the battles of Stalingrad and Kursk. In the East, Hitler also took his “Aryan race policy” to its limits, creating so much human suffering and death, that for normal people it´s almost impossible to comprehend. As a part of Hitler´s “Final Solution”, Jewish people all around the occupied areas were systematically murdered, but in the East the brutality and atrocities toward the Soviet people - Jewish or not – were probably worse in the whole of WWII - if you don´t include Poland. POWs were killed in vast numbers, towns destroyed, villages burned, and civilians executed - most people alive were left without food or shelter, or deported to other areas for slavery. The slavic race was only good for slave labour in the dark mind of Hitler, since for him they weren´t even humans. From the Soviet side, military losses were over 10 million, while the civilian losses mounted up to somewhere over 14 million. These harsh actions by the Germans also helped the partisan movement to grow from the Soviet side, and eventually it would be a serious threat to Germans operating in the area. These guerrilla fighters were especially very active in Belarus (AKA “Byelorussia”) and its vast forests, and 1943 was the year when they were probably at their strongest. This form of warfare is a back drop for the Soviet production “Come and See AKA Idi i smotri (1985)”, the last film by director/co-writer Elem Klimov (he died in 2003) and a powerful portrait of the horrors of war and humanity that is hidden somewhere inside.

The film tells its story through the eyes of a young boy Florya (Aleksei Kravchenko), who against his mothers will is joining onto the partisan movement and moves away from his home village into the forests, where the partisan community lives. He´s clearly ready for the adventure, and has probably seen war only in his imagination. At first the life among the partisans is shown in rather good spirit, and the laughter and singing is filling the air. Everything´s relatively quiet, probably too quiet for Florya, who´s spending his time mostly doing small jobs around the camp. The mood of the film is starting to change, bit by bit, when director Klimov adds some more uneasiness and surreal atmosphere, when the madness is beginning to appear and the child is facing the realities of the war. The first clue to this happens when the majority of the partisans are moving to face the enemy, now close by, and when the first violent bombing happens. During the attack, Florya bonds with the young (probably shell shocked) woman called Glasha (Olga Mironova), and they also see the first glimpse of the (faceless) enemy, when the German paratroopers land in the area. During their escape they´ll find Florya´s home village empty, and tension and terror starts to mount for both Florya and the viewer. The young boy is also seeking some comfort from the partisan soldier (Vladas Bagdonas) by joining his small group. From the last part of the film, the faceless enemy will be shown in all its brutality, taking away the last naïve thoughts that Florya might have about the war. As we learn from the extras, the title “Come and See” is taken from the Book of Revelation, and “is the call to witness the carnage and devastation wrought by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”. Young Florya will witness what is probably very close to “hell on earth”, and when the final note of the film says that 628 villages in Byelorussia were burnt to the ground, with most of the inhabitants killed, it´s easy to believe that.

“Come and See” is considered as a war movie, but it´s not a very typical one. As many people like to point out, it has a very different approach than many American movies about WWII, and it´s a far more challenging experience (note, that I didn´t necessarily say “better” - I usually find many good qualities of their own in the American war movies). Right from the opening scenes the narrative and visual style reveals the general mood of the film, which is very artistic, lyrical - even dream-like. In many scenes the camera is really close, and actors are almost talking straight to it. Furthermore, the extensive use of steadycam and the long takes are making the viewer very much connected to the story, almost like wandering around the forest with the actors, feeling as lost and horrified. Dialogue is often poetic, and I felt that director Klimov intentionally wanted to create a surreal atmosphere, making the viewer feel like the movie is like a dream of a young boy, only eventually waking the audience and showing that these nightmarish events are very much real - part of the sad history of the Eastern Front. Visually the film is very powerful, with strong emotions from the actors (e.g. the scene in the middle of the swamp is very unique). The film is shot almost entirely in locations of Byelorussia, and it often looked like many scenes were done in almost natural light (probably some fill lighting here and there, but not in the style that people are used to). Scenes in the early morning or at the dawn of the night are very nicely executed, and even when some of them are a bit dark, it just works for the flavour of the movie. Florya finds some (rare) peace from the quiet nature; the rain, the woods, and the moonlit sky, and it feels rather an essential part of the film. The film is definitely not done with slick, “Hollywood-style”, but rather more like a documentary (this is also discussed in the extras) even when it doesn´t use the common tricks like the handheld cinematography or fast editing. Instead of big action scenes or battles the film uses some smaller, but effective, scenes of bombing or gunfire (apparently done with live ammo, I might add). Scenes of the trees exploding or tracer bullets at night are memorable, not to mention the scenes where the (real) flamethrowers are used. You can see how the villages are really burning, with actors right in the middle of the scene. The power of real locations can be seen in this film.

It´s of course interesting that the film was done in 1985, which was the year when Mikhail Gorbachev rose to power in the Soviet Union, and who eventually ended the “Cold War” - and the whole Soviet Union for that matter. The script was actually written approx. 7 years earlier (when, due to some problems, it was shelved) and during that time the Cold War was still very much alive. As director Klimov explains in the extras, the film was also inspired from that era, since the ultimate clash of the two super-powers back then, the USA and the Soviet Union, would´ve probably meant for the start of another World War. “Come and See” is an example of the horrors that war can bring to normal people, when just one person like Hitler is let use of the ultimate power. In all fairness it has to be added that the film very much tells the story from the Soviet side, portraying basically all Germans as ruthless and cold, and the film has some minor aspects that you could call “propaganda” (many war movies have those, depending on the era when they were made). The cruel behaviour of the German soldiers was obviously several times true, but eventually you could say that both sides were very merciless to each other. Partisan movement in the Soviet Union is actually quite a controversial issue on its own, since some groups did murder their own people, stole things like the food from them, and made quick executions towards the people who they thought were collaborating with the Germans. They did help the Soviet war effort, but they also did plenty of harm to their own people (the revenge from the Germans usually focused to the civilian people), the issue which is not really portrayed in the film. Eventually “Come and See” still works very well and is the road I urge everyone to take. It makes you think about the dark side of us humans, and what happened in places like Byelorussia during WWII. It shows one side that happens in every war; suffering of the innocents. It´s not the easiest film, and requires a certain amount of patience, but it´s definitely worth it. The final “montage” of the film, like the whole war shown in a few minutes, is a mesmerizing moment and leaves just one question in the air; why?

Video

I assume that the transfer on this UK-release and most of the other DVD-releases is provided by “Ruscico (Russian Cinema Council)”, and is presented in 4:3, running 136:35 minutes (PAL). For the info that I have, it should be the original aspect ratio (I have no idea that was this shown 4:3 in the Soviet theatres back then, or matted to 1.66:1 or 1.85:1). Cover says that the transfer is “digitally remastered from restored print”, and it´s indeed clean, without any major print damage or similar. It has some problems, though. Certain scenes are very grainy, especially the darker ones, and there is a fair share of edge enhancement and the general look of the transfer is often “noisy” - occasionally even murky. Since the film includes many low lit-scenes, a certain rough look could be intentional and part of the “documentary”-feel by the filmmakers, and some scenes do look better. Still, this is not “remastered” as I understand the word. “Dual layer” disc is coded “R2”, and there are 22 chapters.

Audio

The disc includes the original Russian/Belarusian Dolby Digital 5.1-track, along with the English Dolby Digital 5.1. Optional English subtitles are included. I obviously chose the Russian track, which at first sounded a bit artificial. There are some very directional dialogue-bits coming from the rear channels, which didn´t necessarily blend in with the overall mood of the film. As the film progresses the track also evolves, and certain explosions, sounds e.g. from the military vehicles and other effects work very well in 5.1. This might not be an exceptional audio mix, but eventually it works quite nicely. It could also be added, that the film operates with somewhat experimental music and sound effects, either to create tension or a chaotic and restless mood in the middle of the war. Music can be sometimes heard in the “distance” and there are some strange audio cues. There were times when some bits sounded a bit distorted, but this could very well be intentional. Overall, the track is quite clear (only mild hiss in some more quiet scenes).

Extras

All extras are included on the “Disc 2”, and are in Russian, with forced English subtitles (text based extras are in English). We kick off with three interviews;

“Preface by Elem Klimov” -featurette runs 20:44 minutes, and is the interview with director/co-writer Klimov. He doesn´t talk that much about the actual production, but tells about the origins of the movie (the original title was actually “Kill Hitler”) and the motives behind it. “Come and See” is obviously a very personal project for the director, since Klimov was born in the infamous Stalingrad, and fled from the city during the bloody battle. He also talks about his lead actor, and during the production he feared that young Kravchenko would be traumatized in some way. Klimov is like the director of this type of film should be, a calm and intelligent personality.

“Interview with Aleksei Kravchenko” -featurette runs 13:05 minutes. In this one the lead actor Kravchenko tells about his memories about the casting and about the actual production (he was 13 years old at the time). He seems to be rather proud of the film, even when he had to go through some rough times in very early on in his career. He for example watched 2 hours worth of footage of the war crimes and the consternation camps before the actual production, lost weight, and was present in the scenes when the live ammo was fired. He also talks about the “swamp-scene”, which is very interesting. Few shots of some award ceremony is shown.

“Interview with Production designer/Art director/Set decoration Viktor Petrov” -featurette runs 7:42 minutes, and here Petrov talks about the many sides of the production, and how determined the crew was during it. He also talks about the pyrotechnics and crowd-scenes, and praises the director Klimov. Some photos (same can be found from the “Photo gallery”) are also included.

“Chronicle #1” -featurette runs 11:28 minutes, and consists of old propaganda news-reel material, in B&W. The focus is on the partisan movement, and “how they were essential” during the war. One hanging is also shown, so take note if you´re faint hearted.

“Chronicle #2” -featurette runs 5:30 minutes, and is similar to the earlier one, but this time focusing on the civilian victims from the Russian side. There is plenty of footage about the dead victims, burned, frozen or just shot, and is not very pleasant to watch. Then again, even when it´s done to serve certain propagandist needs, it´s recommended to watch after the film, just to see how grizzly the reality was.

We also get the cast & crew biographies and filmographies for director/co-writer Elem Klimov, cinematographer Aleksei Rodionov, Production designer/Art director/Set decoration Viktor Petrov, co-writer Ales Adamovich, composer Oleg Yanchenko, and actors Aleksei Kravchenko, Vladas Bagdonas, Liubomiras Lauciavicius, Yevgeni Tilicheyev, and Viktor Lorents.

Photo gallery includes 2 pages; first page includes 9 “behind the scenes” photos, while the second page includes 12 stills from the film (some probably also used to promote the film). There´s one encoding error, so the third picture from the first page takes you to the second page - instead of showing the larger photo of the one you just clicked.

Easter Egg: Go to the “Filmographies”-section, and choose the director Elem Klimov. Now go to the last page (filmographie), and press “up”. The name of his earlier film “Agony AKA Agoniya (1981)” is highlighted. Press it, and you get access to the sub-menu for that film where you find the following features:
-“Interview with Elem Klimov” -featurette (3:25 minutes), where he talks about “Agony”, and also tells a few anecdotes involving the acclaimed Swedish cinematographer Sven Nykvist, and also the director Akira Kurosawa.
-Text introduction and English theatrical trailer (2:51 minutes) for “Agony”.

Overall

“Come and See” is a classic film of the Soviet cinema, a portrait of how the war affected the thousand of normal civilians under the Nazi's occupation. Even with minor propagandist elements, it´s a film that everyone should see, including the fans of the more traditional war movies with GI´s and Sherman tanks. Your patience will be eventually rewarded with the experience that you probably won´t soon forget. The transfer of the UK-release leaves something to be desired, but overall this is a good release of this unique film.

For more info, please visit the homepage of Nouveaux Pictures.

The Film: Video: Audio: Extras: Overall:

 


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