Elem Klimov’s Russian war film Come and See, originally titled “Kill Hitler,” was released in 1985 and has, for the most part, gone unnoticed in most circles. This is a shame, because I think it’s one of the best films ever made, and definitely the best war film ever made (yes, including Apocalypse Now). It’s hallucinatory, disturbing, and very powerful. I’m no smoker, but I had to have a cigarette after my first viewing just to relieve some of the stress. The absolutely brutal emotional intensity of Come and See makes it close to unwatchable.
Set in Nazi-occupied Russia, the story is told from the perspective of a young boy named Florya. Instead of having a concrete plot, we simply follow Florya through an almost apocalyptic looking Russia, with dialogue absent from most of the film (there’s probably less dialogue here than a – name drop – Leone film). We see and hear everything through Florya’s eyes and ears. The horror increases with virtually every scene, and by the end of the film we’re every bit as shell shocked as Florya. Klimov apparently attempted to hypnotize actor Aleksei Kravchenko for several scenes, as he didn’t want a child to be exposed to some of the more violent parts of the film, however Aleksei was unaffected by the hypnosis.
No war film has ever even come close to the extreme realism of Come and See (no big budget, no effects, half the time they even used real bullets for christ sake). Pair that with the film’s surrealism and its absolutely relentless score and you get something bordering on trance-cinema (I’m pretty sure that’s a film term – or at least close to one). While most war films tend to focus on and/or glorify at least one positive aspect of war (I’m looking at you Mel Gibson), such as the honor in defending one’s country, brotherhood amongst soldiers, etc., Come and See will make you absolutely hate war, and I mean HATE war, which is as it should be.
It’s a completely absorbing and emotionally draining experience, and 100% guaranteed to stick with you for a long, long time, especially the climactic last half-hour. See it, and then tell all your friends about it. This film deserves a MUCH wider audience.