Film Review: Come and See

 

With Sword, and With hunger, and With Death

If there’s a God, He’ll have to beg for my forgiveness.”

The above quote was written on the walls of the Mauthausen concentration camp by one of its prisoners, and may as well be the epigraph of the whole war, for there is not a faith so strong to not be shaken by the evils committed then. Nazi forces occupying and later burning villages and their inhabitants in the regions that are now Belarus is one such evil, and director Elem Klimov illustrates that in starkest detail in his 1985 film ‘Come and See.; A quick web search shows it has a reputation as not only an artistic triumph but as one of the most unbearably bleak films ever.

It begins not so bleakly with two boys playing in the sand. Against the wishes of the village elder, they’re digging for rifles left behind in a prior conflict. One of the boys, Flyora, is only fourteen and eager to find the gun so he can join the Soviet partisans. The movie is matter-of-fact in how it depicts these early scenes. It doesn’t appear it wants you to feel any particular way about what’s on-screen, not when Flyora’s mother weeps and begs the partisan soldiers not to take away her son, not when he arrives at the camp and the soldiers laugh and joke while setting up a group photo. His enthusiasm is sincere, and if the film’s reputation did not precede it, you might expect a better outcome.

It’s not long before the naivete that fuels his enthusiasm begins to crumble. On guard duty, he’s told to shoot anyone who doesn’t know the password, a command we are immediately shown he is incapable of upholding when he lets past a girl who may know the password but can tell he is unwilling to do anything if she doesn’t say it. She is Glasha, a nurse a little older than he. She is warm and playful, and they’re a comfort to one another after the soldiers leave them behind at the camp. She starts teasing the boy when they’re interrupted by a deafening bombardment from German planes. The two escape the notice of German paratroopers and head back to his village which is completely abandoned so he leads her through a bog to an island where he’s sure the inhabitants fled to. They reunite with partisan forces and he goes with them to fight the enemy.

I’ll stop the summary of events here not so much to avoid spoilers but because the plot doesn’t enjoy the premium that a Hollywood production would put on it. It is a film that is felt. The critical consensus does not overstate the bleakness of Come and See. It is as apocalyptic as the Book of Revelation verse from which it gets its title. Few movies dare provoke the despair and anger Klimov does here, and of those that try even fewer succeed. Of course, the fact it depicts real events gives it a leg up working the audience’s emotions—Klimov wrote the script with Ales Adamovich who fought with the partisans in Belarus when he was the age of Flyora—but the events, horrific as they are, would not affect viewers so deeply were it not for the artistry with which they’re portrayed. Klimov directs with assured confidence, his touch so deft, so steady, yet propelled by a boiling rage, the kind that makes your limbs quake.

Consider the sound design. Sequences are accompanied by the likes of Mozart and Wagner, but it doesn’t have a score in a traditional sense. Instead, scenes are buried in ambient drones, or diagetic soundscapes from the barrage of bombs falling and the squealing tinnitus that follows, to the oppressing silence in the empty village, to the sloshing of bog water as Flyora and Glasha trudge their way to the island. And the wailing: the wailing of survivors grieving their dead and the wailing of villagers being herded from their homes into a barn and the wailing once they’re crammed in so close they become a roiling mass of heads and arms.

Visuals are equally important to the film’s nightmarish vision. Klimov shot only with natural light. The colors are muted and the lighting dims, especially for indoor scenes. Everything is drab, but it’s a convincing drab unlike those color-corrected abominations clogging streaming sites and theaters. From frame one we are struck by the aspect ratio, 1.37:1 (the “Academy ratio”), a rarity in a movie of this vintage that wasn’t made for television, and nearly unheard of for a war film. No panoramic landscapes, no beautiful vistas, no grand battlefields, no sweeping shots of unit formations, only a growing feeling of being confined, of not knowing what lays just offscreen. It becomes as asphyxiating as that barn stuffed with villagers.

The framing is also perfect for an unusual motif: characters staring straight into the camera like a classical portrait. These shots appear throughout the film and Klimov uses them to every effect possible. There’s Glasha and her reassuring smile, Soviet commander Kosach and his expression stony and resolute, a Nazi soldier shaking his face then cackling, the SS officer staring with indifference, but most of all there’s Flyora. We follow him throughout and his evolving portraiture is a roadmap of his mental descent. At first the bright, young recruit, then the timid soldier losing his confidence, then a soul so wrecked by grief he’s unrecognizable. In shots that have become iconic, we see him, his head sunken so his clavicles cradle his chin and the black shoulders of his shirt look on their way to surpassing his face, its features mangled into an expression of terror. With close-ups, Klimov actually emphasizes how small Flyora is. He looks younger by the end of the film. The bags under his eyes, the brow furrows and stains of dirt and blood look so wrong on a face like his. Credit must be given to the makeup department, though above all others Aleksei Kravchenko, who was not a professional actor, deserves praise for his searing performance.

Some imagery goes from the horrifying to the grotesque, such as a makeshift scarecrow topped with a human skull, outfitted in Nazi attire, and which the partisans haul around with them, or the final darting dance of the eye of a dying animal, or a hallucinatory montage near the film’s end. The film is so unsparing, it’s almost understandable how the Soviet censors didn’t approve the script for seven years, despite its favorable treatment of partisan forces.

I feel obligated to comment on a common remark about the film. Many say it, and non-American films in general, portray the harsh reality of war that jingoistic Yanks would never touch. Rah-rah patriotic movies about the glories of war exist worldwide. Not surprising since the same themes have had a constant presence in art through the ages and throughout cultures. Also, American filmmakers haven’t always shied away from the atrocities of war. Their depictions might never have been as piercing as Come and See, but that’s true of most movies everywhere. The most important factor for the discrepancy in how the cultures portray war, WWII in particular, is the difference in how the countries experienced the war. America joined late, and its involvement was confined almost exclusively to the military, many of whom were volunteers. Many of those soldiers weathered the unimaginable; their sacrifices and the sacrifices of those on the homefront cannot be overstated nor their contributions overvalued—they were liberators—but the war was entirely different to many countries in Europe, Asia, and Africa, countries who were invaded and destroyed, who had cities burnt to the ground. My AP History teacher told our class about traveling to Europe in the 60s or 70s and visiting small villages that were missing an entire generation of men. An invasion like the one of the Nazis against the Belarusians is a violation, a rape: a descriptor the film shows is sadly often not metaphoric.

Come and See does not end with a glimmer of hope because the hope it offers is not the sort that glimmers. It is a dull, tiny thing. There are soldiers remaining and they will continue to fight for their homeland, but, as viewers know, the year is 1943 and that means there are years left of fighting and those years bring horrors as Flyora has just witnessed.

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  1. Cat III, the One that Sparked This Member
    Cat III, the One that Sparked This
    @CatIII

    Discussion should, of course, focus on the wonderful film Come and See, as well as war films in general, but as someone who takes his writing seriously, even when reviewing a movie, I’d appreciate feedback on the quality of the prose. With subjects as solemn as this, my inclination is writing in a style more formal, and I fear, sometimes too florid.

    I should also mention, the film has been released on Blu-ray by the Criterion collection, and can also be streamed on Criterion’s streaming service. The transfer is fantastic, probably the best the film has ever looked. The extras look nice too, though I’ve only watched the interview with Roger Deakins so far.

    • #1
  2. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    Cat III, the One that Sparked … (View Comment):

    Discussion should, of course, focus on the wonderful film Come and See, as well as war films in general, but as someone who takes his writing seriously, even when reviewing a movie, I’d appreciate feedback on the quality of the prose. With subjects as solemn as this, my inclination is writing in a style more formal, and I fear, sometimes too florid.

    I should also mention, the film has been released on Blu-ray by the Criterion collection, and can also be streamed on Criterion’s streaming service. The transfer is fantastic, probably the best the film has ever looked. The extras look nice too, though I’ve only watched the interview with Roger Deakins so far.

    I haven’t seen this, but I keep coming across references to it, in top ten lists and the like. My impression is that this is one of those films that you want to see once, and then never want to see again.

    • #2
  3. Cat III, the One that Sparked This Member
    Cat III, the One that Sparked This
    @CatIII

    Judge Mental (View Comment):
    I haven’t seen this, but I keep coming across references to it, in top ten lists and the like. My impression is that this is one of those films that you want to see once, and then never want to see again.

    That’s a common reaction to it. My tolerance for such things is high (Cannibal Holocaust is the only film I can think of that I thought was good, but have been wary of watching again) so I’m not the best gauge of the truth of that statement. You definitely won’t be revisiting it often; I can say that with confidence. But it is well worth seeing, even if only once.

    • #3
  4. Rick Banyan Member
    Rick Banyan
    @RickBanyan

    Since you asked @Cat III, I thought your writing was wonderful. What actually went through my mind was, “This girl can write.” (In my sexist defense, I’m probably old enough to be your father.)

    • #4
  5. Cat III, the One that Sparked This Member
    Cat III, the One that Sparked This
    @CatIII

    Rick Banyan (View Comment):

    Since you asked @Cat III, I thought your writing was wonderful. What actually went through my mind was, “This girl can write.” (In my sexist defense, I’m probably old enough to be your father.)

    Thanks, Rick. I appreciate it.

    Need to be honest, though. I’m a guy. I just use Amy Winehouse as my avatar. Cat is short for Category, a reference to the highest rating in the Hong Kong movie rating system.

    • #5
  6. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Klimov’s a fantastic filmmaker, and one of the glories of the j’accuse generation of late Soviet era artists. @thereticulator is an expert in this period, IIRC. Seeing Klimov speak about it was one of the hot tickets of the Moscow film festival in 1985 and 1987. 

    You describe its effect, its impact well, Cat III. For a mainstream American audience, Come and See would be as shocking as the hardest-to-watch scenes in Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan, with a touch of The Wicker Man, Hostel and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. It came out at the height of glasnost and perestroika and competed for official attention with Yuri Ozerov’s quite strong but more conventional The Battle of Moscow. Today, few people would put them in the same category; like Fail Safe and Dr. Strangelove, the memory of one film has greatly overshadowed the other. Ozerov’s 1985 Battle of Moscow put Stalin’s blunders on screen for the first (approved) time, and showed that not everybody was a fearless, selfless hero during the war. Klimov’s Come and See, by contrast, doesn’t concern itself with the outer world, the big picture of the war. It is pitiless and subjective. 

    • #6
  7. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSul
    @skipsul

    Cat III, the One that Sparked … (View Comment):
    and I fear, sometimes too florid

    Nonsense. Very well written.

    • #7
  8. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    I saw the film back when I was starting to watch Russian movies, and was not impressed enough to watch it again. So my memory of it is not very good. Yeah, the cinematography is probably good, and it showed the horrors of war in that it showed terrible violence. But it seemed too trite–it didn’t really show the destruction of the human soul, to use the term loosely, necessary to make people commit such atrocities. It was just good guys vs bad guys. 

    I suppose I should watch it again as I’m often slow to catch on. There are Russian films I was unimpressed with on first watching that I became much more impressed with on repeated watching. Nikita Mikhalkov’s Unfinished Piece for Player Piano is one that I only started to appreciate on the 2nd watching, and it has become more impressive each time I’ve watched it. (And I dislike Mikhalkov as a person.) That’s not a war film, though. 

    Russian filmmakers are often capable of showing subtleties of human character, which is one reason I like Russian film. But they also have some other skills. I wish I knew what film it was, but it was when I barely understood a few words of Russian and hadn’t even started to read Cyrillic that I saw a WWII movie on Russian internet TV. There was a scene with a strafing run by German planes on Russian refugees, and I thought to myself, “Holy cow! These guys know how to make that scary!” It was partly the use of sound, but more importantly it was the timing. Russian film is often too drawn out and not action-packed enough for American audiences, but that one had an effective mix. It didn’t drag out the strafing scene at all. Suddenly the planes were there and there was no time to react. If I saw the film again I would be sure to remember its name, but I’ve never come across it again.

    But Russians are also capable of some dreck. Some say Hot Snow is a good Russian war movie. My own subtitle for it is, “Sleepwalking to Stalingrad.” If memory serves, that movie did get off to a good start, so I’ll give it that much. 

    Maybe my favorite Russian war movie is the made-for-television series, Seventeen Moments of Spring. It’s not a combat movie, though, nor one that shows the horrors of war. I believe it was one of the films that was sponsored by the KGB in attempt to rehabilitate the reputation of the secret services, but it is not at all a hack job. The filmmakers even managed to sneak in some subversive anti-Soviet stuff. I was impressed by the subtlety with which it portrayed the German military officers. They are not at all the caricatures that were shown on American TV when I was growing up. But then I learned that it was made during a time when the Soviets were trying to establish better relations with West Germany. The Americans are shown as untrustworthy allies in this series, but they are portrayed with some subtlety, too. 

     

    • #8
  9. Clavius Thatcher
    Clavius
    @Clavius

    This is a great review. You have piqued my interest in this genre, while also making me reluctant to pursue it.

    • #9
  10. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Your writing is beautiful. Regarding the movie, I won’t try to see it. I have studied much on WWII, the Nazis and the camps, and seen my share of war movies. I’ve decided that no matter how well done they are, I will likely not watch any more of them. It’s just too difficult, too painful. But I liked your review very much.

    • #10
  11. Cat III, the One that Sparked This Member
    Cat III, the One that Sparked This
    @CatIII

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Klimov’s a fantastic filmmaker, and one of the glories of the j’accuse generation of late Soviet era artists.Seeing Klimov speak about it was one of the hot tickets of the Moscow film festival in 1985 and 1987.

    He sure is. Do you know anything of his other films? My understanding is that he directed comedies before Come and See. Looks like Criterion channel has a couple of them, though I don’t recognize the titles. Would be interesting seeing another side of him.

    You describe its effect, its impact well, Cat III. For a mainstream American audience, Come and See would be as shocking as the hardest-to-watch scenes in Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan, with a touch of The Wicker Man, Hostel and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. It came out at the height of glasnost and perestroika and competed for official attention with Yuri Ozerov’s quite strong but more conventional The Battle of Moscow. Today, few people would put them in the same category; like Fail Safe and Dr. Strangelove, the memory of one film has greatly overshadowed the other. Ozerov’s 1985 Battle of Moscow put Stalin’s blunders on screen for the first (approved) time, and showed that not everybody was a fearless, selfless hero during the war. Klimov’s Come and See, by contrast, doesn’t concern itself with the outer world, the big picture of the war. It is pitiless and subjective.

    The Battle of Moscow sounds intriguing. Added to my watchlist, though unfortunately I don’t see it on any streaming services and I struggle to find a copy on physical media. Will have to keep my eyes peeled.

    • #11
  12. Cat III, the One that Sparked This Member
    Cat III, the One that Sparked This
    @CatIII

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    I saw the film back when I was starting to watch Russian movies, and was not impressed enough to watch it again. So my memory of it is not very good. Yeah, the cinematography is probably good, and it showed the horrors of war in that it showed terrible violence. But it seemed too trite–it didn’t really show the destruction of the human soul, to use the term loosely, necessary to make people commit such atrocities. It was just good guys vs bad guys. 

    I think that’s because it’s strictly from the Belarusian perspective. Whatever “destruction of the human soul” that led the Nazis to commit these crimes had taken place before any of the characters in the film met them. And I think the film does address this issue: SPOILERS Near the end when the partisans have captured some Nazis and collaborators, they debate how to punish them. They’re ready to pay eye for eye, even getting as far as dousing the captives in gasoline, but they refrain and deal out the more humane punishment of shooting them dead. Will the next group captured be as lucky? The dialogue of the captives shows the road to their crimes were paved with ideology in the Nazis’ case and cowardice in the collaborators’. The montage as Flyora shoots the poster of Hitler ends with a picture of Hitler as a baby, emphasizing that he, and all other Nazis, were at some point innocent. END SPOILERS

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    I suppose I should watch it again as I’m often slow to catch on. There are Russian films I was unimpressed with on first watching that I became much more impressed with on repeated watching. Nikita Mikhalkov’s Unfinished Piece for Player Piano is one that I only started to appreciate on the 2nd watching, and it has become more impressive each time I’ve watched it. (And I dislike Mikhalkov as a person.) That’s not a war film, though. 

    Maybe my favorite Russian war movie is the made-for-television series, Seventeen Moments of Spring. It’s not a combat movie, though, nor one that shows the horrors of war.

    Two more for the watchlist. My knowledge of Russian film is terribly limited (I still need to get around to watching Tarkovsky). Two I’ve been interested in are Russian Ark and 12. Are either of those ones you have thoughts about?

    • #12
  13. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Cat III, the One that Sparked … (View Comment):

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Klimov’s a fantastic filmmaker, and one of the glories of the j’accuse generation of late Soviet era artists.Seeing Klimov speak about it was one of the hot tickets of the Moscow film festival in 1985 and 1987.

    He sure is. Do you know anything of his other films? My understanding is that he directed comedies before Come and See. Looks like Criterion channel has a couple of them, though I don’t recognize the titles. Would be interesting seeing another side of him.

    You describe its effect, its impact well, Cat III. For a mainstream American audience, Come and See would be as shocking as the hardest-to-watch scenes in Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan, with a touch of The Wicker Man, Hostel and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. It came out at the height of glasnost and perestroika and competed for official attention with Yuri Ozerov’s quite strong but more conventional The Battle of Moscow. Today, few people would put them in the same category; like Fail Safe and Dr. Strangelove, the memory of one film has greatly overshadowed the other. Ozerov’s 1985 Battle of Moscow put Stalin’s blunders on screen for the first (approved) time, and showed that not everybody was a fearless, selfless hero during the war. Klimov’s Come and See, by contrast, doesn’t concern itself with the outer world, the big picture of the war. It is pitiless and subjective.

    The Battle of Moscow sounds intriguing. Added to my watchlist, though unfortunately I don’t see it on any streaming services and I struggle to find a copy on physical media. Will have to keep my eyes peeled.

    Battle of Moscow shows up on YouTube if you use its Russian title, Bitva za Moskva. Here’s a link:

    There may be other, better copies out there. 

    Klimov’s other best known film is Farewell (1983), written by his late wife, director Larisa Shepitko, who died in a car crash in 1979. Farewell is the story of a tiny town on an island that’s about to be flooded by a massive government dam construction project. It is regarded as one of the USSR’s few films that echo western concerns about the environment. 

    • #13
  14. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Cat III, the One that Sparked … (View Comment):
    Two more for the watchlist. My knowledge of Russian film is terribly limited (I still need to get around to watching Tarkovsky). Two I’ve been interested in are Russian Ark and 12. Are either of those ones you have thoughts about?

    I don’t know about Russian Ark. I’ll have to look it up.

    If by 12 you’re referring to Mikhalkov’s Двенадцать (the word for twelve) yes, I’ve watched it a couple of times. It’s well done, but is one of the most insidious pieces of propaganda I’ve ever watched. Putin said it brought a tear to his eye and well it should, as in the end it glorifies [deleted to remove spoiler]. It’s worth watching, though. 

     

    • #14
  15. Hang On Member
    Hang On
    @HangOn

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    Klimov’s Come and See, by contrast, doesn’t concern itself with the outer world, the big picture of the war. It is pitiless and subjective. 

    I just watched it for the first time. It is pitiless and subjective. And dreamlike. Maybe a personal nightmare would be a better description. However, there’s scant character development either. Yeah, war’s hell. It’s almost hackneyed. I felt I was just floating along. There are the scenes at the end of him firing his gun into something and the scenes of Nazi Germany running backward. I laughed. It’s that bad. In the end, it is plodding and mechanical. 

    Absolutely, Russians, Ukrainians and Belorussians had a very different experience of the war than Americans, but you get a better sense of that by reading Vasily Grossman, especially Life and Fate.

    • #15
  16. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    Klimov’s other best known film is Farewell (1983), written by his late wife, director Larisa Shepitko, who died in a car crash in 1979. Farewell is the story of a tiny town on an island that’s about to be flooded by a massive government dam construction project. It is regarded as one of the USSR’s few films that echo western concerns about the environment. 

    I’ve watched his film, Agony (the Rasputin story). Other than that and Come and See, I’m pretty much ignorant of his work.

    Another film that features western environmental concerns is Derzu Uzala, though the director on that one was Kurosawa. I even had a young Russian guy volunteer the opinion that he liked it. (Though you could say all the Russians I met at work were environmentalists of one sort or another.) 

    But wouldn’t you say Andrei Konchalovsky’s Siberiade also addressed western environmental concerns? 

    I’ll have to check out Farewell, because the dispossession of people here in the U.S. when government dams were built is a topic of interest to me. I’ve gotten interested in stories from the Dakotas to Indiana to Pennsylvania-New Jersey. 

    • #16
  17. KirkianWanderer Coolidge
    KirkianWanderer
    @KirkianWanderer

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Klimov’s a fantastic filmmaker, and one of the glories of the j’accuse generation of late Soviet era artists. @thereticulator is an expert in this period, IIRC. Seeing Klimov speak about it was one of the hot tickets of the Moscow film festival in 1985 and 1987.

    You describe its effect, its impact well, Cat III. For a mainstream American audience, Come and See would be as shocking as the hardest-to-watch scenes in Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan, with a touch of The Wicker Man, Hostel and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. It came out at the height of glasnost and perestroika and competed for official attention with Yuri Ozerov’s quite strong but more conventional The Battle of Moscow. Today, few people would put them in the same category; like Fail Safe and Dr. Strangelove, the memory of one film has greatly overshadowed the other. Ozerov’s 1985 Battle of Moscow put Stalin’s blunders on screen for the first (approved) time, and showed that not everybody was a fearless, selfless hero during the war. Klimov’s Come and See, by contrast, doesn’t concern itself with the outer world, the big picture of the war. It is pitiless and subjective.

    In the age of Putin, Russian cinema seems to have returned mostly to a hagiography of WWII as the USSR’s/Russia’s finest moment, a time of uncontested patriotism even with the horror. Probably goes hand in hand with the growing admiration for Stalin.

    • #17
  18. KirkianWanderer Coolidge
    KirkianWanderer
    @KirkianWanderer

    Hang On (View Comment):

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    Klimov’s Come and See, by contrast, doesn’t concern itself with the outer world, the big picture of the war. It is pitiless and subjective.

    I just watched it for the first time. It is pitiless and subjective. And dreamlike. Maybe a personal nightmare would be a better description. However, there’s scant character development either. Yeah, war’s hell. It’s almost hackneyed. I felt I was just floating along. There are the scenes at the end of him firing his gun into something and the scenes of Nazi Germany running backward. I laughed. It’s that bad. In the end, it is plodding and mechanical.

    Absolutely, Russians, Ukrainians and Belorussians had a very different experience of the war than Americans, but you get a better sense of that by reading Vasily Grossman, especially Life and Fate.

    Grossman is such an underrated writer and, of course, many of his major works appeared in the West before the USSR because the KGB considered some of his writing anti-Soviet. Sakharov, the brilliant physicist and friend of Natan (then Anatoly) Sharansky, was key in getting them out.

    • #18
  19. KirkianWanderer Coolidge
    KirkianWanderer
    @KirkianWanderer

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Klimov’s a fantastic filmmaker, and one of the glories of the j’accuse generation of late Soviet era artists. @thereticulator is an expert in this period, IIRC. Seeing Klimov speak about it was one of the hot tickets of the Moscow film festival in 1985 and 1987.

    You describe its effect, its impact well, Cat III. For a mainstream American audience, Come and See would be as shocking as the hardest-to-watch scenes in Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan, with a touch of The Wicker Man, Hostel and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. It came out at the height of glasnost and perestroika and competed for official attention with Yuri Ozerov’s quite strong but more conventional The Battle of Moscow. Today, few people would put them in the same category; like Fail Safe and Dr. Strangelove, the memory of one film has greatly overshadowed the other. Ozerov’s 1985 Battle of Moscow put Stalin’s blunders on screen for the first (approved) time, and showed that not everybody was a fearless, selfless hero during the war. Klimov’s Come and See, by contrast, doesn’t concern itself with the outer world, the big picture of the war. It is pitiless and subjective.

    In the age of Putin, Russian cinema seems to have returned mostly to a hagiography of WWII as the USSR’s/Russia’s finest moment, a time of uncontested patriotism even with the horror. Probably goes hand in hand with the growing admiration for Stalin.

    That actually reminds me of a conversation I’ve had with a few people in the last year. Both Irina and Natasha, my two main Russian instructors, and my friend from Kazakstan say they almost exclusively watch Soviet and immediately post-Soviet era films and tv, because the acting, writing, and cinematography is so much better than what is being released nowadays. I’ve seen enough Russian tv made in the last 10 years to see where they’re coming from.

    • #19
  20. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):
    That actually reminds me of a conversation I’ve had with a few people in the last year. Both Irina and Natasha, my two main Russian instructors, and my friend from Kazakstan say they almost exclusively watch Soviet and immediately post-Soviet era films and tv, because the acting, writing, and cinematography is so much better than what is being released nowadays. I’ve seen enough Russian tv made in the last 10 years to see where they’re coming from.

    There has been very little that’s good in the page of Putin. In part it’s because not all the dreck has been weeded out yet, but there is so much of it. If you like chick-flicks that are produced on an industrial scale, there is a lot for you, but they’re all pretty much the same film. And not a very good one at that. Russia is now relatively prosperous, but that doesn’t make for interesting movie settings and situations. 

    • #20
  21. KirkianWanderer Coolidge
    KirkianWanderer
    @KirkianWanderer

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):
    That actually reminds me of a conversation I’ve had with a few people in the last year. Both Irina and Natasha, my two main Russian instructors, and my friend from Kazakstan say they almost exclusively watch Soviet and immediately post-Soviet era films and tv, because the acting, writing, and cinematography is so much better than what is being released nowadays. I’ve seen enough Russian tv made in the last 10 years to see where they’re coming from.

    There has been very little that’s good in the page of Putin. In part it’s because not all the dreck has been weeded out yet, but there is so much of it. If you like chick-flicks that are produced on an industrial scale, there is a lot for you, but they’re all pretty much the same film. And not a very good one at that. Russia is now relatively prosperous, but that doesn’t make for interesting movie settings and situations.

    I can’t even watch chick-flicks in English, I don’t think I could stand the experience any better in Russian. 

    The one halfway decent tv I’ve seen is Метод, which is pretty good acting and dialogue/story wise, but so unremittingly dark and sad that it’s hard even to make it through an episode. 

    • #21
  22. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Russian Ark (2002) is an amazing technical achievement, filming an entire movie in one moving shot, yet it’s much more than that. It uses a Czarist palace to recreate a dreamlike walk through 200 years of Russian history. Is that grasp of their national identity as strong as it feels on first viewing? I think it is, if you accept that this is a realistic but idealized upper class Saint Petersburg that has to stand in, symbolically, for all the rest of a country so vast it’s hard to generalize about it.

    • #22
  23. Oblomov Member
    Oblomov
    @Oblomov

    Some have mentioned Grossman’s Life and Fate, which is the 20th century’s War and Peace. Centered on the Battle of Stalingrad, it is a sweeping epic that investigates the nature of totalitarianism. It would be difficult to do justice to it in the medium of film. However, there is a fantastically good Russian TV adaptation in 12 parts available on Amazon Prime. The film version tackles only a part of the novel, but it is astonishingly good. Seen as a WWII action movie, it is every bit as good if not better than anything I’ve seen, including Band of Brothers, The Pacific, etc. But being based on Grossman’s novel, it is much more than that. I recommend it.

    • #23
  24. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Oblomov (View Comment):

    Some have mentioned Grossman’s Life and Fate, which is the 20th century’s War and Peace. Centered on the Battle of Stalingrad, it is a sweeping epic that investigates the nature of totalitarianism. It would be difficult to do justice to it in the medium of film. However, there is a fantastically good Russian TV adaptation in 12 parts available on Amazon Prime. The film version tackles only a part of the novel, but it is astonishingly good. Seen as a WWII action movie, it is every bit as good if not better than anything I’ve seen, including Band of Brothers, The Pacific, etc. But being based on Grossman’s novel, it is much more than that. I recommend it.

    It’s good to see you here again. Been a while, hasn’t it?

    • #24
  25. Cat III, the One that Sparked This Member
    Cat III, the One that Sparked This
    @CatIII

    Jeez, you people know so much more about Russian culture than I do. The other week I had a dental cleaning and the hygienist had an accent which I think might have been Russian. Can any of you say that?

    My next review is another Russian film very different than Come and See. It should go up within a few days, early next week at the latest.

    • #25
  26. Oblomov Member
    Oblomov
    @Oblomov

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Oblomov (View Comment):

    Some have mentioned Grossman’s Life and Fate, which is the 20th century’s War and Peace. Centered on the Battle of Stalingrad, it is a sweeping epic that investigates the nature of totalitarianism. It would be difficult to do justice to it in the medium of film. However, there is a fantastically good Russian TV adaptation in 12 parts available on Amazon Prime. The film version tackles only a part of the novel, but it is astonishingly good. Seen as a WWII action movie, it is every bit as good if not better than anything I’ve seen, including Band of Brothers, The Pacific, etc. But being based on Grossman’s novel, it is much more than that. I recommend it.

    It’s good to see you here again. Been a while, hasn’t it?

    Hey there! It has been awhile. A combination of laziness, weltschmerz, and тоска (untranslatable). I lurk in and out from time to time.

    • #26
  27. Oblomov Member
    Oblomov
    @Oblomov

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Russian Ark (2002) is an amazing technical achievement, filming an entire movie in one moving shot, yet it’s much more than that. It uses a Czarist palace to recreate a dreamlike walk through 200 years of Russian history. Is that grasp of their national identity as strong as it feels on first viewing? I think it is, if you accept that this is a realistic but idealized upper class Saint Petersburg that has to stand in, symbolically, for all the rest of a country so vast it’s hard to generalize about it.

    Gary, I saw it when in came out in 2002 and was absolutely blown away by its artistic, imaginative, and technical virtuosity. The scene with Nicholas II and his family is just astonishing — it’s like they brought them back from the dead. It’s also pretty clear to me that this movie is a brilliant piece of official Russian nationalist propaganda that has Putin’s fingerprints all over it. Putin was the boss of St. Petersburg before Yeltsin anointed him his chosen successor, and restoring St. Pete and Russia more generally to her former imperial glory is very much a part of the Putinist project to overcome the humiliation of the 1990s and Make Russia Great Again.

    Personally, I don’t really mind this project and our current mood of unhinged, delusional Russophobia strikes me as completely insane and counter to our national interests.

    In any case, it’s interesting how far the Russians have traveled since the crude, plodding Soviet propaganda of the Cold War period. Although in earlier periods Russian propaganda rose to quite impressive artistic heights, e.g., Eisenstein’s films, the Constructivists, and Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony (there’s St. Petersburg again).

    • #27
  28. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Personally, I don’t really mind this project and our current mood of unhinged, delusional Russophobia strikes me as completely insane and counter to our national interests.

    You and me both, bro, you and me both. The Madeleine Albright war against Serbia was incredibly stupid and had corrosive effects on relations with Russia in the Yeltsin era.

    One of the better things about Trump was he seemed to understand that Russia overcoming the humiliation of the Nineties was inevitable, and for the US, potentially positive. 

    • #28
  29. KirkianWanderer Coolidge
    KirkianWanderer
    @KirkianWanderer

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Personally, I don’t really mind this project and our current mood of unhinged, delusional Russophobia strikes me as completely insane and counter to our national interests.

    You and me both, bro, you and me both. The Madeleine Albright war against Serbia was incredibly stupid and had corrosive effects on relations with Russia in the Yeltsin era.

    One of the better things about Trump was he seemed to understand that Russia overcoming the humiliation of the Nineties was inevitable, and for the US, potentially positive.

    I don’t think he so much had any deep thoughts about Russia overcoming its problems and taking its place in the world as he liked Vladimir Putin. And Putin is the cause of a lot of those problems. Russia as it is now is, like China, not a country the US wants to overcome the rough 90s in order to take an even bigger role in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

    • #29
  30. Oblomov Member
    Oblomov
    @Oblomov

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    The Madeleine Albright war against Serbia was incredibly stupid and had corrosive effects on relations with Russia in the Yeltsin era.

    “But if we have to use force, it is because we are America; we are the indispensable nation. We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future, and we see the danger here to all of us.” -M. Albright.

    After Hubris comes Nemesis. We are in the Nemesis segment of that cycle. Somebody should write a post on that theme.

    • #30