When it comes to the “war movie” genre, many non-American movies are largely overlooked. Come and See is a Russian (anti) war movie that came out in 1985, and depicts the occupation of Belarus by Nazis. Beginning with the Soviet occupation of 1941, the invasion by Nazi Germany of then Belorussia ended in 1944. The film sets itself in 1943. This invasion, according to a placard in the film, resulted in the destruction of “628 Belorussian villages with all their inhabitants”.
Come and See: Setting the tone for war
Come and See, from its very beginning, sets a mood for war. Its opening scene depicts two village children digging a battleground for guns since the Soviet Partisan forces demanded possession of guns for recruitment. The children do so without heeding the village elder’s warning. The movie, then, goes on to narrate the story of one of the two children called Flyora.
Conflict of determinations
A conflict wages between Flyora‘s determination to go to war, and his mother’s to stop him. The conflict is depicted with dramatic intensity; one also gets to see the Shining-esque twins of Flyora. With the arrival of military men for the conscription of Flyora, his mother has to eventually give up on her motives. Flyora himself is filled with admiration for the army as well as the services that await him. His smile is reflective of his admiration.
The experience of war in Come and See
Despite all, Flyora’s excitement is short-lived. A gloomy visage substitutes Flyora’s frequent smile as Come and See unravels his time in the army. Aside from the urgency to arm oneself and the frequent bomb droppings, Come and See also adheres masterfully to Flyora’s own development through the adversities of war. No less impacting to the setting, Flyora’s actions, however, are not isolated instances. He does not become a “war hero” per se through glorified experiences of exclusive incidents. Rather, he is a new recruit from the village where many others like him have faced similarly adverse effects of the war.
That war is different when experienced firsthand is what subjects Flyora’s character to change. Moreover, there is his search for identity, the experience of love, death of comrades, which enhances his development as Flyora lives through the passing days. With witnessing events that only the visuals do justice to (and not words), Flyora becomes even more firmly equipped with the urgency once reflective of his partisan peers.
The setting of Come and See
The pastoral setting as the backdrop of the war is no less influential in shaping Come and See. In fact, the subtle depiction of high urgency and the broad scope of adversity thrive in the setting.
Aside from the determination of common village youth folk to join the ranks, such a setting also paves the way for the utter helplessness of villagers. Already apparent from the initial warning of a village elder, the forced respect of inhabitants in village Perekhody for enemies out of suppression is the epitome of this helplessness. Between the two events, Flyora has undergone a transformation from not heeding warnings regarding the futility of attempts, to questioning Belarus’s inescapable oppression.
The graphic depiction of adversity
Flyora’s turmoil begins upon witnessing the village elder burnt severely after the pouring over of gasoline. His present state, groaning and regretting, is enough to stir in Flyora a fear of the outcomes of war. Such experiences of death and adversity in Come and See often conjure graphic visuals. The conditions of the common village folk become self-reflective of the ruthlessness of the SS officers, even in instances where the latter are not physically present.
The setting also puts itself to the service of the film’s viewers through the impact resulting from the villages’ destruction. Trees after trees fall down, cattle die and a church becomes the container of a burnt mass of trapped live villagers.
Come, listen, and see
It would not serve right to neglect the use of sounds as an essential part of Come and See. There are ambient music, symphonies of Mozart as well as regional songs of love and hope that may count. However, that is not all there is. The use of sound has an altogether different approach. One remarkable instance would be the deafening of Flyora. Succeeding the suffocating scene of Flyora and Glasha’s struggles of wading through a bog, the distortion of Glasha’s speech -reflective of Flyora’s deafness- only adds to the moment of hysteria.
Detaching and connecting back again
Apart from all the gloomy contours of Come and See, there are absurd moments of detachment, which are only momentary before it re-connects the viewers to actuality. One such instance can be the covering of a bare enemy skull with clay, complete with an iron cross, to build an effigy of an SS officer. Momentarily humorous, the scenes following the planting of this effigy result in the death of Flyora’s comrades by landmines.
Perhaps the act of detachment and re-connection is the strongest in the scene following Flyora’s crying himself to sleep in a field. What momentarily appears to be a comfy pillow under Flyora’s head at first glimpse, only turns out to be the carcass of a cow!
Is Come and See a worthwhile watch?
Yes, for anyone seeking a “war movie” outside of the dominance of Hollywood, Come and See is a refreshing watch. The movie combines its tense reality with surrealist aspects, raising itself to standards of innovation. Although this review does not do justice to the movie’s more intricate aspects, it is only for the audience to seek those out by themselves. The movie does justice to the adverse state of war dominantly through visuals and depiction of events. In doing so, Come and See immerses itself in an unfettered play of human emotions.
Although desperately pulling at inevitable historical references, the dramatic intensity finds a rightful place in not only threading the plot together but also in concluding it. As a conclusion, it reveals neither the outcomes of the war nor Floyra’s fate; “absolute conclusion”, thus, is debatable concerning the hinting solely that Come and See undertakes towards a continuation. For one sees, in the end, the plethora of emotions that Flyora undergoes while shooting at Adolf Hitler’s framed picture.