"The chronicle of one boy's struggle to defend his Belarusian village from the Nazis in 1943." = The Second World War is one of those subjects that provides filmmakers with an almost endless supply of stories. Hollywood has produced hundreds of films on the subject, but Come and See, produced by Russian filmmaker Elem Klimov in 1985 is as far removed from these types of films as possible.
Set in Byelorussia in 1943, the film's 'hero' is Florya, a teenager from a small, poor village. The film opens with Florya digging a rifle out of a grave in preparation for joining the local resistance forces. Much to the consternation of his mother, Florya leaves home and is brought to the partisan stronghold in a local forest, as they prepare to mount an attack on the invading German army. But seeing Florya's youth and inexperience, the partisans leave Florya behind. Rejected and disappointed, Florya wanders into the forest, where he meets a teenage girl. The two frolic and play in the forest until they are interrupted by a barrage of artillery and incoming German paratroopers. They escape back to Florya's village where they find everybody slaughtered. They meet with a group of refugees, and Florya and a small group of men go off to find food for the survivors. Florya ends up at another village where he witnesses the extermination of the villagers at the hands of the sadistic German soldiers first hand.
Come and See is an assault on the senses. It's more a coming of age story than a war movie. It's a harrowing experience, but is crafted so well that the experience is worth the discomfort. The images and sounds are created in a way that makes you feel like you're stumbling through some surreal nightmare. It's reminiscent of the Do Lung bridge sequence in Apocalypse Now as the insanity of what's going on is portrayed through the cinematography and set pieces. There is a sense of dread that hangs over the film, and while very little fighting or killing is seen for two thirds of the film, you know that there is something coming, and it's not going to be pleasant.
The acting, from all involved, is outstanding. Aleksei Kravchenko, who plays Florya physically ages throughout the film, transforming from a wide-eyed innocent teenager to almost an old man by the end of the film. And after experiencing Florya's journey, you can completely empathize with his transformation.
Come and See is essential viewing. No other film I've ever seen portrays the true horrors of war in a more accurate fashion. The film may prove too much for some viewers, but those brave enough to sit through the whole thing will be rewarded with one of the most engrossing studies of war they're ever likely to come across. Absolutely essential viewing, but a film few people have the stomach to watch it twice.