Elem Klimov, the new head of the Soviet Filmmakers Association, explores the horrors of war in his classic coming-of-age drama "Come and See." Directing with an angry eloquence, he taps into that hallucinatory nether world of blood and mud and escalating madness that Francis Coppola found in "Apocalypse Now." And though he draws a surprisingly vivid performance from his inexperienced teen lead, Klimov's prowess is his visual poetry, muscular and animistic, like compatriot Andrei Konchalovsky's in his epic "Siberiade."
"Come and See," an impassioned, pastoral indictment of the Nazis, haunts us with its painterly after-images of World War II as seen through a 14-year-old farm boy's eyes. Alexei Kravchenko, who has never acted before, plays Florya, the innocent destroyed. He's the Soviet Charlie Sheen, if you will, a familiar figure in war lore, but he suffers with an agony torn from his Russian core. He was, in fact, hypnotized during filming to aid him in his physical transformation from an apple-cheeked waif to a wizened, hollow-eyed witness of genocide.
It begins when Florya steals a gun from a soldier's shallow grave and runs off to join the Resistance fighters in rural Byelorussia in their stand against the ruthless storm troopers. But after he's left behind by the older partisans, Florya returns home to find his mother and baby sisters have been slaughtered, along with the other villagers. The grieving boy travels on to nearby Perekhody, where he watches drunken Germans herd the townspeople into a barn and burn them alive. Florya, stunned like a rabbit in a headlight's glare, escapes physical harm, but his soul is destroyed.
Klimov does go overboard with his portrayal of the maniacal Nazis, slobbering and rabid as the red demons who crucified Rambo. And despite his liberal reputation, he even tosses a tiny crumb to the Politburo when one of the Nazi prisoners explains why they burned the Byelorussian babies: "Your nation doesn't have a right to exist. Inferior races spread the microbe of communism," he snarls.
"Come and See" sounds like an invitation to a child's game. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Come and See, at the Biograph, in Russian with English subtitles, is unrated but may not be suitable for younger children.