26 November 2011

COME AND SEE / IDI I SMOTRI (Dir. Elem Klimov, 1985, Soviet Union)

When Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, Belorussia (now Belarus) was occupied and ethnically cleansed of its Jewish population. Elem Klimov’s Idi I Smotri / Come and See (1985) is one of the most visceral films I have come cross. Klimov uses the point of view of a young country boy Florya Gaishun (Aleksey Kravchenko) who joins the Belorussian resistance and witnesses at first hand the horrors of World War II. Klimov covers the gamut of war from occupation to resistance and also the destruction of villages. This is a journey film so plot is irrelevant and the narrative is led by the movement of Florya across the Russian landscapes. As the level of trauma increases around Florya and the more brutality he witnesses, the more he ages. His face seems to paralyse, aching with a lifetime of unspeakable horror. The range of shocking imagery, raw and resolute in its clarity, is deeply affecting and moving. Klimov’s trajectory for Florya is relentless as the boy’s gaze transforms into a marker of historical truth, recording reality around him which he cannot transcend or prevent from unfolding; Florya is both a witness and victim of war. The most gruesome chapter in the film, which takes up a third of the film, depicts the complete destruction and ethnic cleansing of a village by marauding Nazis. Florya’s final gunshot and gaze that is directed at the audience is a complicated one as it attempts to unravel a history that cannot be undone. By journeying backwards through Adolf Hitler’s life and ending the sequence on a photo with Hitler as a baby, Klimov emphasises simplicity and universality about our lives, that innocence is both momentary and premature in the face of history.

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