Elem Klimov’s 1985 film, Come and See, takes place in 1943 Byelorussia when the Nazi troops were engaging in systematic genocide under the guise of rooting out partisans and spies. Its central figure is a peasant boy named Florya (Alexie Kravchenko), who begins as a fresh-faced patriot thrilled to find a rifle on the body of a dead soldier, a weapon that allows him to join the local resistance. His excitement at being a warrior quickly becomes terror after his first exposure to enemy shelling, which leaves him dazed and half-deaf. From there the horrors pile on until we come to a protracted sequence depicting the sadistic destruction of an entire village — one of 628 such events that occurred in Russia during World War II.
This is an old and familiar story as well as an intensely grim one, and you may wonder why you should bother to subject yourself to it, especially if you’re feeling more sensitized than usual to the idea of mass slaughter. Well, maybe you shouldn’t. But Klimov, who seems to have had one great film in him (he made five features before this and has made none since, though he’s still alive) has imbued his film with grit and poetry, through terror and respite, right up to the ending which features a backward-running newsreel leading to the question of how far would you go to destroy evil, how far can you go before you yourself are lost? And being a truly great film, it offers no answer.
Showing exclusively at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit), Monday at 7:30 p.m. Call 313-833-3237.
Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected].