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Lewis P. (Turfseer) from NEW YORK, NY Reviewed on 10/3/2010...
Apocalyptic vision of Nazi horrors is shocking but perhaps not shocking enough
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
After spending a good deal of time wading through many of the reviews of 'Come and See', I've found that there's pretty much a consensus that the 1985 Soviet film about a Nazi massacre in a Byelorussian (Belarus) village is a cinematic masterpiece. There was one review however, that caught my eye where the film critic expressed some reservations and that was Walter Goodman of (believe it or not) The New York Times! He called the film's director, Elem Klimov, a "master of a sort of unreal realism". And I agree that this term, "unreal realism", captures the essence of the director's approach.
Daniel Goldhagen in his brilliant book, "Hitler's Willing Executioneers - Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust", makes the point that Hitler could not have been successful without the overwhelming backing of the ordinary German. The great value of Goldhagen's tome is that he puts a human face on the killers. He describes in detail how police battalions, consisting of ordinary Germans who were given little training and weren't always Nazi party members, were conscripted and fought in tandem with the specialized killing regiments (such as the Eiznsatzgruppen), other SS and SD units as well as the regular Army, during various "aktions' against the civilian populations (principally Jewish) in Eastern Europe. What I found out from reading Goldhagen's book is that the killers did not have to fear any reprisals if they decided to opt out from participating in the massacres. Quite the contrary, the commanders were only looking for volunteers and for the few who actually were part of a very small minority that found that murdering people made them too queasy, they could be given a much more benign assignment. When they weren't committing heinous crimes, these Germans were involved in ordinary pursuits such as participating in track and field events or going bowling. One officer even brought his wife to witness one of the massacres.
Klimov's approach, however, is to view events at a distance. None of the Byelorussian townspeople or partisans are developed into characters of any depth. Similarly, there is little attempt to humanize the Germans (until the end when Klimov does show the SD commander begging for his life and another officer refusing to back down, spouting his racist views). For me, this could have been a more powerful (and of course a very different film) if Klimov gave his characters some personality and perhaps had focused on one particular German antagonist. Instead, ALL the Germans are lumped into a collective mass. By humanizing the killers, the cruelty of the Germans would have proved more up close and personal.
Instead Klimov's distancing effect softens the horror. It's as though one is viewing a Hieronymus Bosch painting in a museum and is fascinated by the images of hell the artist has created. We never actually SEE the people who murder Florya's family; the horror is muted as Glasha only catches a fleeting glance of the dead bodies piled against Floyra's house. It's shocking but perhaps not shocking enough! Similarly, we feel nothing for the villagers who presumably fled and whose terrifying escape is never shown (and we never learn how they actually escape to the island across the bog).
The great value of Come and See is that Klimov DOES show how the Germans, as a collective mass, actually enjoy what they're doing. The massacre appears as it's a drunken orgy, a macabre carnival, where murder becomes one big joke. That of course is one aspect of the horror and it's quite effectively conveyed in the final scene of the movie. In contrast, since we are not invested in any of the villagers who are herded into the locked building and then machine-gunned and set on fire nor are we acquainted with any of the killers on a personal level, the full import of the horror again feels muted. Yes, there is a shot of the villagers trapped inside, pounding on the door but it's seen from a distance. It's left up to the viewers imagination as to what's happening inside the burning building. Similarly, we see the lone woman who jumps out of the building before the conflagration and is dragged to a truck where she PRESUMABLY is raped as the truck drives off (and more soldiers pile in). Again, it's left to our imagination as to what happens to the poor woman but Klimov spares us the complete import of the horror. To repeat: it's shocking but perhaps not shocking enough.
While Klimov focuses on the massacre of the Byelorussians, it should be noted that the first group of people the Germans always singled out for extermination during all their murderous forays, were the Jews. The Jews were considered "non-human", as opposed to the various Eastern Europeans who were dubbed "sub-human". So I was disappointed to see that Klimov only shows the capture of one lone Jew (yes, it's possible the Jews in the village had already been "disposed" of before the massacre takes place) but I wonder if that lone Jew would have been given 'special treatment' by the Germans (such as being hung in the Village square for anyone left alive to see), instead of being thrown into the building with the rest of the villagers.
Unlike Sean Penn who gushes (as part of the DVD special features) that Come and See is a powerful "anti-war" movie, I see its strength as more a cautionary tale about Fascism than the more generic polemic against war. I found Florya's loss of innocence perhaps the most 'obvious' part of the film as one would expect that war would have a most deleterious effect upon any child.
In the end, one senses that the events were even worse than what is shown here. I agree with the Time's critic's appellation that 'Come and See' is a work of "unreal realism"; at best a 'noble attempt' but certainly no masterpiece as most have insisted.
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Come and see, and I looked, and behold a pale horse
Leonard Fleisig | Here, there and everywhere | 11/13/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.
The above passage from the Bible's Book of Revelations is the source of the title of Soviet director Elem Klimov's grim, powerful vision of war and death: "Come and See". The apocalyptic nature of the title is all too relevant as Klimov portrays the Wermacht (in conjunction with the S.S. and groups of collaborators) as the harbingers of the apocalypse who kill with sword and with hunger and with the beast of the earth. The audience serves as the witnesses called upon to behold the devastation.
Come and See takes place in occupied Belarus (loosely translated as "white Russia), a former Soviet Republic that shares a western border with Poland and a southern border with the Ukraine. Belarus was overrun shortly after the commencement of Operation Barbarossa in June 1941 and not liberated until July 3, 1944 the day Minsk was retaken by the Red Army. The film follows Florya (played remarkably well by thirteen-year old Alexei Kravchenko), a young teen eager to join the Partisans. The partisan movement was particularly successful in Belarus and their actions have been the stuff of legends and no small amount of pride since the war. At least 40,000 civilians joined the partisans, including hundreds of Jews who fled the holocaust in Poland to join the resistance movement in Belarus.
After digging up a rifle, the only requirement for enlistment, he is taken from his village and his crying mother and little sisters in his best Sunday suit to join with a band of partisans operating out of a wooded marshland near his village. Eager to fight, Florya is disappointed when he is left behind with Glasha, a cute young girl who pines for the Partisan's commander. They fall prey to a German attack and Florya finds himself partially deaf from the bombing. They make their way to his village where they find that Florya's family, along with the rest of the village, has been murdered in cold blood. Thus begins Florya's descent into a state close to madness. His journey from the village takes him on a tour of a countryside rendered devastated by the war. He is taken in by a farmer only to find that the village is about to be visited by the Germans. Florya is the only one with a sense that they are about to be exterminated and, sure enough, the soldiers with the willing help of local collaborators, the townsfolk are loaded into a large barn and killed. The scenes of the slaughter are horrifying both for the visual portrayal of grenades and flame throwers killing old men, women, and children and for the glee with which the executions are performed. Keep in mind that the horrors I just described are not shown to the viewer in any great detail. Rather, they are felt, and that feeling, that sense made a deeper visceral impression on me than scenes of blood and gore. Florya's descent continues until a harrowing closing scene.
There is nothing pretty about the violence, about the death and destruction that permeates Come and See. Nevertheless, it is clear that Klimov is not taking poetic license or exaggerating the horror of war visited upon the civilian population of Belarus. Belarus suffered three million casualties during the war and of the towns and villages destroyed during the fighting at least 450 of them were intentionally destroyed by the Germans, their inhabitants along with them, in retaliation for Partisan actions. Klimov's Come and See is as good a testament to the times the people of Belarus lived through as any monument of bronze or marble. This is a must-see film.
D. Knouse | vancouver, washington United States | 04/08/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"4.5 stars. This film is shocking in many ways. The only negative aspect is that for the first half of the film I was battling a serious case of culture-shock. I raised my eyebrows in consternation more than once. However, by the end of the film I was stunned. There are some graphic and intense sequences, many of which linger long after the film is over. I just finished watching it for the first time and I am overwhelmed and haunted by the horrifying images I have seen. Some of the scenes of Nazi brutality are unnerving and evil; their debauchery and slaughter is unforgivable. Seriously, there are scenes in this film I have never seen before and will probably never see in any future films. The camera work is amazing, being a worthy film for study by any aspiring cinematographer, and the direction is outstanding. The main reason I watch foreign films is that I hope to see and experience something I never have. This is one of those experiences. Highly recommended."
Leonard Fleisig | 10/07/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I was browing through the local public library's video shelves yesterday and pulled down "Idi i smotri" on a whim; I'd never heard of it and hoped only that I might be in for a better-than-average morality play, with the various subplots and melodrama typical of the war movie. Nothing could have prepared me for the experience. It is a singleminded, intensely focused, harrowing record of war, unlike anything I have ever seen. Elem Klimov gives us no moral context, makes no attempt to ground the viewer in any way (with the exception of a single scene near the end, after the cremation of the living villagers of Perekhody); instead his camera displays a frighteningly dispassionate willingness to simply show us. The title, I've read, may come from a verse in Revelations about the Beast; regardless, to "Come and See" is exactly what the film invites us to do -- simply to see reality. I think this is why the film is so engaging. I was forced to inhabit completely the eye of the camera, with nothing to protect me from what I was witnessing.The most compelling "event" we're forced to witness is the evolution of the young protagonist's face, from that of a grinning, excited boy to a wizened, ageless yet ancient shell, scarcely a human face at all. (I've read a review which states that this film is about retaining one's humanity in the face of war. This is sanctimonious nonsense; it's about the obliteration of one's humanity.) Other incredible moments: the dreamlike scene in the forest, after the partisan camp is bombed, when Florian watches Glasha dance in a bright nimbus of falling rain...I'm still recovering from this film... I may never recover. But I will watch it again, I know, because it's one of the most powerful viewing experiences I've ever had. Elem Klimov is a genius.Just watch it!"
Unique, Surreal Film About a Different Kind of War - Not Pro
Anthony E. Whitaker | Virginia Beach, VA USA | 11/26/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I recently saw this movie, and was moved to comment about it after reading other reviews here on Amazon. Other reviewers here have commented that: 1) The surreal aspects of this film are a flaw or weak point. 2) The movie is about the horrors of war in general, not this particular war. 3) The movie is communist propaganda.
I disagree strongly with all three of these points.
1) The film *is* surreal, and that feature works perfectly to impart to the viewer a feeling of being dumped out of one world and into another that doesn't make sense - the exact feeling the 16 year old boy protagonist would feel when suddenly dropped into the hell of nazi occupation. I can't name another film that does so good a job of making the viewer feel like he or she is there, part of what is going on, seeing through the eyes and hearing through the ears of the protagonist.
2) This film is not about just any war. It's about the special nature of the war waged by nazis. There is no combat in this film - none - zero. This film never, ever shows the partisans fighting the nazis. It shows the nazis attacking unarmed civilians. Old and weak men, women, and children.
**** spoilers below ****
Then, in the aftermath of combat, when the partisans have captured a group of nazis, one of the ss officers explains in a calm voice the twisted logic of why they did it. It's all about exterminating an inferior race. "You don't have the right to be" he says, and "it all starts with the children". The nazis want to eliminate their enemy's ability to reproduce. Killing the women and children is not just a brutal act of passion, it's a strategic goal of the nazi war. The fighting between armies to gain control of territory and resources (what we usually see in a war movie) is only one half of the nazi war.
3) The movie is too thoughtful to be propaganda. Propaganda would tend to be a simplistic statement of "we're good, they're bad", but it's clear in this film that nazi ideology is being indicted, not the German people. In the ending montage that some have criticized, the boy is shooting at a picture of Hitler. It's clear he's blaming Hitler, not the Germans. With every shot he takes, time rolls back further, and further, undoing the things Hitler did. He rolls time all the way back to a picture of baby Hitler sitting on his mother's knee. Then, he stops. The camera shows a horrified look on the boy's face. He does not shoot the baby Hitler. This scene implies to me that the boy recognizes the potential for evil in all humans, including himself, and he fears that maybe the human creature itself is irredeemably flawed. I don't believe a propaganda film would leave such an open-to-interpretation ending, or an ending that didn't clearly place blame for everything on "the bad guys". I believe a propaganda film would have taken that last shot, wiping out Hitler at the root as if that answered all questions about everything that happened during World War 2."
Excellent account of WWII on the Eastern Front . . .
Anthony E. Whitaker | 04/19/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"4.5 StarsAlthough initially sceptical regarding this movie's historical accuracy as it was a Soviet era production, after watching it I thought this film to be a very honest and sobering portrayal of the war on the Eastern Front, between Hitler's Germany and the Soviet Union during WWII. The movie depicts an often overlooked facet of the war, specifically the activites of the SS "Einsatzgruppen," or special action police units, whose task was to liquidate Jews, communists, and any potential threats to the Nazi regime behind the front lines of the actual fighting. These SS police units travelled behind the army's advance, and in addition to conducting mass executions of Jews and suspected communists, were also employed to "pacify" occupied regions that were suspected of taking part in, or aiding, the growing underground resistance. The activites of such an SS unit provides the background to the movie as the main character, a young teenage boy, loses his parents and survives the razing of a Russian village - a scene quite unpleasant to watch, yet very well depicted and brutal in its realism. Of mention was the role played by local Russian militia in carrying out these executions and "reprisal" raids - as this is a Soviet film, and was subject to state oversight, I was surprised that such unpleasant reminders of Russian collaboration were incorporated. Large numbers of volunteers from the occupied territories were accomplices to the SS in their cleansing actions, a fact documented in this movie."Come and See" also provides an interesting glimpse into the role and activities of the Soviet partisans, the insurgent groups fighting the Nazi occupation behind the front. Furthermore, the suffering and harsh conditions endured by Russian civilians living under Nazi occupation is not lost upon the viewer. Although there are definitely stark Good vs. Evil undertones throughout the film (all Germans are essentially portrayed as cold, sadistic, Nazi killers - the Soviet partisans as heroic, beleaguered freedom-fighters), it must be remembered that this movie offers a mere snapshot of the war at its most horrifying level. SS actions such as the ones depicted were commonplace on the Eastern Front - as was the willing, and often enthusiastic participation of anti-Soviet / anti-Semitic elements in the USSR, whom the Nazis depended on for support.Excellent camera work and photography, in my opinion the quality of filmmaking rivals the most recent Hollywood productions. This film is highly recommended to those interested in watching an accurate account of World War II in the eastern theater, and the war as experienced by the Soviet population."