March 7, 2015

Elem Klimov's Come and See

Watched Come and See (『炎628』), a 1985 Belarussian war film. No joke, it was as hard to watch as Resnais' Night and Fog (so much that I'd put off seeing it for about a decade.) The film opens with a young teenage boy from a small, war-impoverished village digging in sand for an abandoned rifle so he can join the army to fight against the Nazis. He (and the audience) has no way of preparing for all the horrors he will face, as he faces one atrocity after another without ever being able to make sense of it all.

If, like me, most of the war films you've seen are from Hollywood, everything about the film will stun your senses. None of the elements you cling to in an American war film are present here: the soundtrack is by Mozart but is jarringly overlaid with the persistent drone of a jet, or the buzzing of flies. The long takes don't show off the fluidity of the scenes or the action, but instead show how suddenly and uncomprehendingly cruelties are forced upon people. The protagonist goes on no honorable soldier's "journey"; he simply survives, moving from one demolished village to the next, abject horror etched permanently on his face. Characters are shot in close-up, but look straight into the camera, allowing not empathy but instead making you feel almost accused.

All of this makes the film almost impossible to watch. And yet, it made me think, what good is there in making a war film that is amenable to the audience? I'm sure Hollywood war films are considered educational, but what is the value of a war film that reduces ideologies to a good side and a bad side, creates action scenes that offer an adrenaline rush and makes us cheer on the annihilation of human beings? It's so easy to dismiss these films as entertainment, but it's interesting how certain morals are always upheld in American films while others get a slide.

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