THE 100 GREATEST FILMS OF ALL TIME – 73: COME AND SEE

by Laurent Kelly


Come and See (1985) – Director: Elem Klimov  Screenplay: Elem Klomov and Ales Adamovich  Starring: Aleskey Kravchenko, Olga Mironova  OSCAR COUNT (0)

Florya Gaishun’s face features a smile a mile wide as he prepares to help his country battle Germany in the war. In his beady eyed enthusiasm we see the tragic innocence that led so many young men to an early grave and the anticipation of the boy learning the true horrors of war ties knots in the stomach.
For of course Gaishun soon comes face to face with the reality of what he is facing in the form of a grim mixture of blood, sweat and tears. An intoxicating and surreal plethora of pale faces, wounded souls and a string of dead bodies. Gradually Gaishun’s patriotic tendencies fade as he undergoes an emotional journey that sees him transform from being happy to confused, ,panicked,, sorrowful and finally angry and resentful.

Two astonishingly poignant moments in the film deserve mention. The first occurs when Gaishun returns home to visit his mother. He walks inside to the horrid sound of flies as stale food lies on the table. Like the boy we start to sense an inevitably tragic conclusion  but the scene is played slow to make the dramatic reveal agonising in its build-up. What Gaishun knows he doesn’t want to see and as he sprints out of the house and across his garden we see a wreck of dead bodies piled by the side of the home. This is the moment when Giashun realises the true consequences of war and his ideal of the battleground as a dream event very quickly descends into a living nightmare.

The second jaw dropping sequence is when the protagonist stumbles upon an abandoned portrait of Hitler in a murky lake. His face takes in the sight, his eyes staring daggers through the man responsible for such unimaginable pain and suffering. Without hesitation he shoots at the frame. Then in one of cinema’s most imaginative and visually audacious sequences we begin to go back in time seeing all the hardship undone, torn buidlings come back to life, death-defying signatures never take place, Hitler’s rousing speeches never occur, soldiers march back from where they came, children are no longer brainwashed. We see Adolf become progressively younger, he is a soldier and then a schoolboy in a class photo and then finally a young baby in his mother’s arms.
In between all this Gaishun has been shooting venomously at the picture as he imagines all these images but as the thought of the baby appears in his head his anguished, unforgettable facials change tact. His gun wavers, his mouth quivers and his entire face shakes. In this moment the film performs something extraordinary as it asks the audience to consider whether or not they could go through with the act of killing something that was once so innocent even if it meant saving millions of lives in the process. As Gaishun discovers this decision is no easy matters and he is unable to fire at such an image.
Of course you could argue that the point is moot because a Nazi uprising could well have happened without Adolf’s assistance but it it doesn’t stop this sequence from being one of the most visually stunning and morally compelling cinematic moments ever crafted.

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