COME AND SEE directed by Elem Klimov  (Soviet Union, 1985)

The original title of this movie was Kill Hitler  which doesn’t win points for subtlety but makes the director’s point of view crystal clear.

By the end our young hero shoots at a framed picture of the Führer and each shot coincides with a newsreel sequence played backwards. History is wound back to before the Hitler’s birth; the dream being that Nazism would not have existed without his leadership.

Hitler is the personification of evil yet the fact that there were so many willing accomplices to the fascist atrocities reveals the sad truth that human wickedness never begins or ends with just one man.

Scenes in the movie of German soldiers laughing and joking as they carry out unspeakable acts highlights the depths of depravity human beings are capable of.  You only have to see the recent footage of American soldiers pissing on the bodies of Iraqi corpses to realise that war legitimizes this descent into barbarism.

The film’s title  takes us back to biblical terror; it is a reference to lines which invite the reader to gaze upon the destruction by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse:

“And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him.

Klimov  never shows the worst atrocities of this Hell on earth in close-up yet leaves little to the imagination. The story follows a young man Florya (an astonishing performance by Aleksey Kravchenko) who starts out with a naive dream of being a heroic partisan.

His romantic ideals of glory are quickly blighted and his role in the war becomes that of a witness to the horrors. The fresh-faced innocence at the start transforms into a look of numbness and heartrending pain by the end.

The movie as a whole has an impressionist, surreal quality; at times there is a grim poetry to images like German soldiers descending by parachute or the rolling eye of a dying cow gazing at the moon. But Klimov never allows us to forget that this is not a work of fiction, we see a village burnt to the ground and the wholesale slaughter of the villagers and, as a caption tells us at the end, this was just one of 628 Byelorussian villages destroyed in this way.

Klimov was under no illusions that this movie would be enjoyed as an entertainment. It is  a sobering reminder about the evil men are capable of; he said:   “I understood that this would be a very brutal film and that it was unlikely that people would be able to watch it. I told this to my screenplay coauthor, the writer Ales Adamovich. But he replied: “Let them not watch it, then. This is something we must leave after us. As evidence of war, and as a plea for peace.”