Tuesday, 13 February 2007

Idi i smotri (1985) - Elem Klimov



Come And See is without doubt, one of the great anti-war films. Initially i thought it might be similar to Tarkovsky's Ivan's Childhood but from the opening scene with the two boys digging on the beach for guns as a plane drones overhead, it becomes abundantly clear this is a different beast entirely.

Aleksei Kravchenko is an endearing in the lead role early in the film as his anguish, insanity and total mental shattering is gutwrenching come the conclusion. Just aboy who finds himself fighting alongside his countrymen in a war he probably doesn't fully understand, with no training and never having any objectives spelled out to him you have to wonder what hope he has realistically. The introduction therefore of Glasha (Olga Mironova) is, i think meant to represent some kind of hope as he finally meets someone of a similar age with whom he thinks he can find some sense in the chaos of warfare. Any hope is quickly disbanded when the bombs [and paratroopers] drop into thier forest and the bullets starting pinging off the tree bark around them. From the woodland scene onwards the stead descent of the characters into their own for of hell is as emotional as it is well-measured by the director.

It would be easy for the camera to focus on Florya's dead family, i can see many american directors chosing to exploit the scene of dead children to tug at the audience's heartstrings, but Klimov is clearly better than that - chosing instead to witness, up close the horror that is going on inside Florya's mind. Deaf from shell shock (and inevitably suffering from PTS) the trawl through across the bog to the island, during which Florya clearly starts losing his grip on reality is a masterclass in filming psychological breakdown. Initially we have some hope that he may get to his family - dashed by the shot of the dead bodies - then further compounded by the relentless walk into the bog sinking ever deeper and closer to death. The score at this point (by Oleg Yanchenko) descends into a truly horrifying, disturbing pit of dissonance, chords and keys crashing into each other with evermore ferocity as the girl realises she might die in the bog with the boy (who is quite clearly in the process of a mental breakdown). Out of tragedy, Klimov takes the film into the perversity of war with the strange effigy those on the island have erected of a German officer, a figure against which the bitter can direct their hatred. With the boy being sent back out again, this time in order to get food, the futility of the war and its inescapability really start to be hammered home. As the cow dies, even Florya is clearly wondering what the point of it all is, if everyone around him is being killed or left behind he seems almost resigned to death.

Going into the final section of the film, having witnessed the explosiveness of war, the threat and the psychological damage it can do one's left wondering what the film could have in store for a climax. The scene in the village is oe of the most difficult scenes i've watched in a war film, the whole series of events unfolding with an extremely depressing senses of the inevitable and shot at a slightly dislocated distance by Klimov so although we feel like we're actually there witnessing the horror, the audience also knows there is nothing that can stop it. The offer of letting the adults go without the children is a cruel twist of the blade, as is the apparent pleasure the troops take in pouring ammunitio into the building, relishing every magazine and grenade explosion. Having emotionally, visually, cinematically peaked with the massacre the end can't - or shouldn't be able to top it. In one sense it does, indeed the final shots of history in reverse as a photo of HItler is fired at have been seen by some as the best shots of the film. My own personal take on this sequence is that the boy, out of depression, resentment, anger, a whoel swathe of emotion is trying to reach a catharsis by firing his weapon into an effigy of the figure that he has been told is to blame for the war. All the horrors of the boy's life are linked to the war, so by shooting into the picture he can metaphorically, symoblically release the tension inside him against a figure of pure hatred. The way the sequence also finishes on the child portrait - a time when the boy was still innocent, unjaded by the world around him also seems to pose as some kind of hope for the audience: though not an overtly positive finish this is clearly as close to a happy ending as Klimov is willing to go. The final shot is picturesque, pure, hopeful and nice, in some way counterbalancing the nihilism of what has gone before in the film; at the very least it is the best image of the film that one could remember afterwards (and far more prefereable to some of the film's brutality).

I do have one overriding reservation though. I know that 600+ villages were destroyed by the German army, and i know a lot of Russian civilians were needlessly killed but - the film seems to go out of its way to demonise the german characters. From the sacrilegious SS officer effigy to the col-hearted way the germans relish the slaughter of peasants, there is nothing to say the Russians are any more than victims. No mention of the horrors purpotrated by the advancing Russian army, and in the backwards sequence where we see villages burning - a lot of those villages were probably burned down during the period of Russian retreat when a "scorched earth" policy was operated to prevent the Germans getting use out of the conquered land. Made in 1985 i guess the producers couldn't make a film too critical of the Russian army during WW2 but without this criticism the film struck me as far more anti-german than an anti-conflict/anti-warfare piece. 9/10

7 comments:

TheDrunkenAngel said...

Great film, even better review, dude.

- Chris.

MOVIE MAFIA said...

how do you pronounce it?

Sandor said...

Dear M,

You should follow a crash history course about events in WWII. Thus you would know that the destructions and slaughters in Bielorussia were a planned and organized policy by the Nazis, and from the start (when reteating, they didn't have so much time to do it) -one more proof of their stupidity, at that, since many regions having suffered from famine under the Soviet regime would have hailed them as liberators... You could also recognize Hitler as a baby, and not mistaking him for Florian. So yes, the scene when this boy after triggering the whole history of nazism backwards, stops shooting when he sees his Nemesis as a child is the strongest of the film, and one of the strongest in world's cinema.

Sandor K

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