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Elem Klimov’s Come and See

The film is horrifyingly relentless and beatific in its artistry.

Come and See
Photo: Mosfilm

Lunatic town crier, Elem Klimov grabs the edge of the stage, hoisting himself up and tossing the carnival ringleader aside, ripping apart proscenium curtains to reveal a freak show of historical gravitas and movie-movie brio to scorch the eyes and imagination—step right up, come and see, try your luck. This is not a film that’s easily forgotten, designed as it is—not unlike Aleksandr Sokurov’s Mother and Son—as something of an imprint from another world and time. Imagine the phantasmagoria of Underground’s god-forsaken final scenes—in which a chimpanzee squeals for his dead-dangling master and a white horse prances around an overturned cross of Christ and the burning, wheelchair-bound corpses of two architects of evil—stretched out to two-and-a-half surreal hours. The film—horrifyingly relentless and beatific in its artistry—is shot as if from the point-of-view of a wild animal skulking for its prey and retreating from the bones that remain (pity young Florya cannot run the course of his life backward like the newsreel carnage Klimov cuts into the film during its final minutes), evincing the cataclysmic psychological toll of war on the human psyche via dissociative manipulation of sound and image. A flash of rainbow trickles through gaps in forest leaves like a projector beam, a heron appears out of nowhere after bombs fall from the heavens like seed pods from ambient-drone spaceships, hitting the ground like the footstomps of giants and leaving a young child—and, in turn, the audience—nearly deaf and dumb in their wake. A movie about the nature of war (its sick intrusion) and pictures, the ability of the latter to capture the former in order to convey—no, demand—that we not only come and see, but madly-truly-deeply witness and remember.

“Tell the truth but tell it slant”
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