I've always heard that you can't create an effective anti-war film because its war scenes would be considered too exciting and thrilling for an audience. And yet they're films that proved to break that barrier like for instance Oliver Stone's Platoon and Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan. But there was a Russian film that accomplished that even before they did, which was Elem Klimov's horrifying masterpiece Come and See. This 1985 Soviet World War II film takes place during the Nazi German occupation of the Byelorussian SSR. Come and See is considered by several critics to be one of the most devastating and disturbing projections of war ever captured on the screen, as it is seen through the eyes of a young and innocent Soviet partisan. The story of the lively young partisan Florya is based on fact and the ruthless portrayal of the horror of Nazism depicted within the film is one of the most disturbing portrayals of human evil I've ever witnessed in a film. Klimov once stated that when the film first premiered it was so shocking for audience members that ambulances had to be called in to take away particularly impressionable viewers, both in the Soviet Union and abroad. The ruthless monster S.S. Major Sturmbannfuhrer is much more heartless and frightening than Captain Amon Goeth from Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List and the way he has his slimy simian pet clinging to his neck while horrendous human atrocities are occurring all around him adds a touch of despicableness to his already unlikable character. Most people when viewing this film would like to think the Russians were exaggerating the depiction and actions of the Nazi party, but unfortunately when seeing the final title card at the end of the film that states that everything that was depicted actually really occurred; you come to the unfortunate conclusion that they were not. Come and See depicts realistic brutality and yet they're several touches of nightmarish surrealism which can be compared to Frances Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now; adding a poetic and haunting dreamlike world within the gritty reality of its horror. For instance, the thick swamp that Florya and Glasha struggle to climb through, the muted sound effects and faint ringing within Florya's ears when temporary going deaf from near by explosions, and a enchanting scene of a girl performing a Chaplin like dance for Florya in the rain, while using his hat as a prop. In one of the most disturbing scenes of the film, the Nazi Party occupy a small Russian town and after beating, humiliating and raping several of the villagers, the Nazi soldiers methodically round-up all of them locking them within a wooden church. Several elderly men and women and frightened parents and infants are all forced inside as the Nazis call out that anyone without children can be allowed to leave. The Nazis then throw grenades into the church, fire off their weapons and set the church on fire, while they all stand and applaud, taking photographs, laughing and listening to music; while being entertained by the horrific show they've created. Out of all the war films I have seen over the years this one scene has always stood out as the defining moment in which I as a film viewer could understand and feel the true horrors of war and witness the depiction of pure evil that occurs within humanity.
The story opens in Byelorussia, 1943. A father calls out for his two boys as the two of them are digging in a sand field looking for abandoned rifles in order to join the Soviet partisan forces. Their father is unhappy with this as he yells out, "Well, go on digging you little bastards. Stinking sons of bitches! If you won't listen to your father, you will listen to the cane." The two boys play games of war as the younger brother pretends to be a German soldier talking in a low gravely voice and giving orders for his older brother Florya to dig trenches; while German aeroplanes fly silently overhead. When digging Florya finds an SVT-40 rifle and him and his brother excitedly rush back towards their home to show it to the family.
Knowing that the young and lively Florya is going to join the Soviet partisan army, his mother is very angry with him. His mother says to Florya, "My dear, boy. How will ever look in your father's eye? What if he finds no one here? Think of yourself, son." She points to Florya's twin sisters and says, "Take pity at them at least, if not on me." Florya says to his mother that he has to go because everyone his age is going. His mother starts to cry and becomes hysterical and gives her son an ax demanding him to then just kill his whole family and be done with it. "I won't let you go!" She yells fearing that the loss of her son, like his father before him, will lessen her and her daughters' chances of survival. When the recruitment solders arrive to take Florya away, they ask Florya where the rifle is that he found the other day. Florya happily grabs it for them and is excited about joining the Soviet partisan forces as the recruiters tell him and his family exciting stories.
Florya then leaves with the recruiters as they say, "breathe deep boy," as the recruiters push Florya out of the house as his mother screams and begs for them to not take her son away and that Florya is a good boy who never hurt a soul. Florya's mother, brother and sisters and the rest of their village watch as the soldiers put Florya on a wagon and leave town. They then meet up with the rest of the partisans who are converging deep within the forest preparing to confront and attack the Nazis. Florya joins their forces as a low-rank militiaman and is ordered to do all the labor in the detachment. Florya notices a beautiful mysterious girl and happens to walk upon a group photo of the partisans and when seen they add Florya to the photo because he is well dressed. They also include a bull that has "Eat me before the German's do," written on his body as everyone makes room to include it in the photo.
When on his first night patrol Florya hears someone and asks them to give the password of their partisan. The chief Kosach appears and asks Florya why he didn't shoot saying, "if someone doesn't stop or give the password, shoot." After Kosach leaves the mysterious girl Florya saw earlier arrives looking for Kosach as she than disappears back in the dark looking for him. The next day the Soviet partisan forces are all ready to depart as the commander gives them a small speech: "We won't try to fool you. They're tough times ahead. The older men know what a siege is. Hitler is waging total war against us. A war to wipe us all out. We must hold, come what may...the positions our commander has placed in our hands."
During the speech Kosach looks at the young girl who seems to be all made up for him before his departure and Florya notices this. "How much longer the war lasts depends on each and every one of us," Kosach says to his men."There's no room here for cowards. None at all. Hitler's weapon is fear. He wants to turn you into insects, slaves. They want to crush us like bugs. But we'll have them trembling with fear. We'll be ruthless. That's what they deserve." When a man says he can't march because of the condition of his boots Kosach orders for him to take Florya's boots because Florya is a newcomer, and orders Florya to instead remain behind at the camp. Bitterly disappointed, Florya walks into the forest, weeping and comes across the young girl earlier who is also crying over the departure of Kosach. Once she notices him crying she starts to laugh as she notices his boots are all filled with water after trying to walk across a stream. They introduce themselves and she says she is Lily of the valley. "I was nearly shipped off to Germany, but here I am."
Florya asks her why she was wearing her Sunday best this morning when the troops were all lined up to leave and she ignores his question and says that her real name is Glasha and then asks Florya why he came back to the camp. "They took pity on the little boy and left him behind," she teases him. "Kosach felt sorry for you." Florya gets angry at her belittling comments and yells, "I'll teach them to feel sorry for me!" Glasha tells Florya that Kosach had told her of nightmares he's had and she says that Kosach will eventually be killed. Florya yells at her and accuses her of lying. Glasha starts to recite a poem that relates to her love for Kosach and the pain and torment she is feeling saying, "Why don't you see me? I'm here. I exist. Here I am. You're the one who's not alive. You don't here the birds. You're deaf. Blind, too. Here I am. Here. I want to love. To have babies. You hear? I'd do anything for you. Just say the word and I'll blow myself up."
Glasha tries to grab Florya's grenade on his utility belt and when he stops her she kisses him which greatly confuses Florya. He pulls Glasha back and calls her a fool saying, "I have 60 bullets, a rifle and a hand grenade. I'm here to fight the Germans. I'm no fool! I ain't Kosach! Are you crazy?!" Glasha starts to laugh calling Florya 'real' and the two of them notice a German aeroplane silently hovering above them in the air. Glasha playfully takes Florya's rifle and they chase one another in the forest when suddenly, German aeroplanes begin to drop bombs and German parachutists, and the camp comes under heavy artillery fire. Because of the bomb explosions Florya becomes deaf and hear's ringing from the blast. He starts to yell out for Glasha and when she calls out for him he can barely hear what she is saying. He then notices a German paratrooper's stuck in a tree as Glasha and Florya make a run for it when they realize they are being shot at from oncoming artillery; and the two find safety hiding in a bomb crater.
That evening the two of them are cold and scared and Florya says, "My ma will be so glad to see us. I'll save all of you. I know a safe place. My sisters are so funny. Then we'll rejoin Kosach." Glasha covers Florya's mouth to quite him. The next morning it's raining and in a very surreal dream like sequence the two of them get out from the bomb crater and start to shake the wet trees with Glasha performing a strange Chaplin like dance in the rain for Florya wearing Florya's hat. Florya and Glasha make their way back to Florya's village and when Florya walks into his home and calls out for his mother; he finds the house completely empty. "They've gone out. Sit down," says Florya. Glasha walks in to take a seat as Florya brings some warm soup from the oven. Glasha pukes out the food when she notices Florya's sister's dolls dismembered and scattered on the floor and the house is overrun by flies. Florya's ringing in his ears reoccurs again and he runs outside and when Glasha follows him he turns and slowly smiles now believing that his family must be hiding on a nearby island across a bog. They both run through the back yard of his house and when Glasha turns back she sees a wall of human bodies stacked up outside Florya's home. (It is unclear if Florya saw it.)
Unable to accept that his family is dead, Florya becomes hysterical as he painstakingly wades through a thick bog while hysterically yelling, "They're here! On the island!" In a haunting surreal like moment, Glasha follows him within the bog as the two both struggle to get across. "No! They aren't here!" yells Glasha as they make it across the bog and to the island. "They're dead!!" Florya doesn't want to believe what Glasha is saying and yells, "They're here!" and grabs Glasha and starts to strangle her making her fall back into the bog. During all this commotion a resistance fighter named Roubej sees this and Glasha reveals to Roubej that Florya is mad because his family have all been murdered and he is also deaf. The ringing occurs once again and Florya clamps his hands to his ears trying to shut out the noise not wanting to accept the fact that his family is dead; while Roubej tries to restrain Florya and calm him down.
In a haunting first person camera shot Roubej leads Florya and Glasha across an area deep within the forest to a large number of villagers who have fled the Nazis. Florya seems to come across his father who was doused in petrol and burnt by the Nazis and left for dead. In a surreal like moment it seems that Florya's father turns to look at Florya and says, "Didn't I warn you? Didn't I tell you not to dig? Every single one of us. They set me on fire too. I was set on fire. I was running after them. I was begging them: 'Please kill me.' They laughed. They laughed. Didn't I tell you not to dig?"
Florya is in complete shock as he makes his way away from the crowd and collapses on the ground trying to bury his head within the mud. The villagers pull him up and Florya is temporarily insane as he starts to eat leaves while watching villagers make up and mold the skull of a dead Nazi with one villager saying, "He don't need no nose. He's got syphilis." The villagers clay up the Nazi skull and even add ears on it saying, "Yes, let him hear what folks say about him."
Florya decides to go along with Roubej and two others to find food as they also take along the made up dead Nazi. "You didn't know it would turn out like this, did you?" Glasha asks Florya before he leaves with Roubej. In a long tracking shot the four men run into SS activity and realize the food that is stored is too well-defended to be raided. After fleeing from gunfire Florya starts to laugh hysterically after the men take the dead German soldier and stand him up in a fork in the road for all the Nazis to see. Later, Roubej unknowingly leads the group through a minefield which goes off and kills the two other men leaving only Florya and Roubej while German aeroplanes silently patrol the skies.
When the two hear a falling object they believe it is another bomb and take cover in the middle of a dirt road. When realizing it was a dropped liquor bottle from the skies Roubej says, "That's life: They get drunk up there, and we return the empties!" At dusk, Roubej and Florya sneak up to an occupied town and the two of them reach a small home in Bagushovka. They sneak up on a Nazi-collaborating farmer, and Roubej orders him to release his cow from the shed and run it out across the fields; as the camera finally shows Florya and Roubej entering the frame running away with the cow. Florya and Roubej laugh on how they scared the farmer silly as they milk the cow for thirst while they are immersed in a deep fog. Suddenly a flare gets shot in the sky and artillery fire occurs as Florya jumps down for cover. Roubej is shot and killed, and when gunfire occurs for the second time the cow is now hit and collapses to the ground with a closeup of the cows eye rolling around in the back of his head with flies buzz around it. Florya breaks down and cries eventually falling asleep on top of the dead cow.
Waking up the next morning Florya is unable to move the dead cow and so he decides to roam within the fog. When he comes across a farmer's horse and cart Florya steals it with the farmer trying to stop him. Florya says, "Folks are dying of hunger here. They're fighting in the war, not sitting at home." When the both of them here the arrival of German troops the farmer tells Florya to hide his partisan jacket and rifle in the field, and takes him to his village of Perekhody, where they hurriedly discuss a fake identity for him. When Florya arrives in Perekhody he enters a small home full of family, and neighbors as the Nazi Einsatzkommando unit moves into the village.
A Nazi soldier is driving in circles on a motorcycle with a dead body on a wooden platform attached to the back of the bike with a sign that reads "I insulted a German soldier." Suddenly Nazis all surround the home and as Major Sturmbannfuhrer enters the home the household treats Major Sturmbannfuhre as a guest offering him food and coffee, as a Nazi soldier breaks one of the kitchen windows and reaches in demanding coffee. A loud-speaker plays outside saying, "People of the village of Perekhody...listen carefully. Everyone gather in the square, with ID cards and children, We're going to check the list of families. How you obey German laws will also be checked. Also be sure to bring your receipts...for farm produce deliveries. No one is to remain indoors in a shed or cellar."
Florya makes his way outside the home as a Nazi soldier grabs him and pushes him down onto the ground. Florya looks around in shock to see hundreds of Nazi soldiers surrounding the area, and forcing a prisoner to hold a painting of Adolf Hitler. Hundreds of children in the village are grouped together and ordered into the village church as Florya yells to the children, "Where are you rushing to? They'll kill all of you!" Florya is grabbed by the face by a Nazi soldier with the Nazi shouting, "What you looking at, you rat!" The Nazi drags Florya along with the other screaming villagers as you hear the loudspeaker saying such ironic words like, "Germany is a civilized country." Once one of the Nazi soldiers checks the foundation of the church he yells down to Major Sturmbannfuhrer, "All in order, Heir major." The Nazis soldiers than methodically round-up all of the villagers including the elderly and children and force them all into the church including Florya; locking them up from the outside.
The church is completely cramped with nowhere to move (with one Nazi soldier almost being trapped in there with them) as several frighten villagers try to push their way out, but with no avail. "Quiet everybody!" Yells a Nazi officer standing up on a ledge saying, "I declare this meeting now open. Who wants the floor?" People are screaming and begging to be released with one elderly man getting shot by artillery when climbing up and peering out one of the windows. The Nazi Sturmbannfuhrer peers in and says, "Those without kids can come out. Leave the kids behind." People start screaming, "The beasts!!" not moving, but Florya takes up their offer and climbs out and is astonished to see Major Sturmbannfuhrer and the complete Nazi Einsatzkommando unit all surrounding the church. Shortly after, a woman attempts to climb out of the church with her child, but she is dragged away by her hair and the toddler is thrown back through the window. Florya is grabbed by several Nazi officers and witnesses several villagers being beaten, humiliated, and taunted.
In one of the most disturbing scenes in the history of cinema Major Sturmbannfuher orders the Nazi soldiers to then throw grenades into the church, fire off their weapons and set the church on fire, while the Nazis stand and applaud, taking photographs, laughing and listening to music. Major Sturmbannfuhrer stands back and watches these atrocities he ordered happen as a slimy simian pet of his clings to his neck; as the church burns down with the villagers inside, as you can see the double locked doors of the church heaving from the desperation inside. The Nazi soldiers then grab Florya and place a gun to his temple posing for a several pictures. Once the Nazi's start to leave Perekhody, The Nazi's strand a bedridden elderly woman in the middle of the fields as Florya collapses to the ground completely traumatized; with one officer on a motorcycle giving him one last kick before riding off. The woman who tried escaping the church earlier with her child is put into a moving truck with a group of soldiers and is gang-raped.
After the Nazis leave the town of Perekhody, Florya gets up bewildered and recovers his rifle and jacket in the fields and wanders out of the village. Florya comes across the partisan soldiers with Captain Kosach still in charge and alive and well. Florya also comes across the woman who tried to escape from the church with her child and who later was gang raped; and is now in a fugue like state. Florya is so mentally traumatized as well that he initially mistakes the woman for Glasha reciting part of the poem Glasha earlier said to him, "To love...to have babies...".
Florya returns to the destroyed village and finds that his fellow partisans have ambushed the Nazis who were responsible for the brutal massacring of the villagers in Perekhody, along with their Byelorussian collaborators and Major Sturmbannfuhrer. "Butcher! My children we're in that fire! Kiss the fascist rats! Kill them!'" yells a villager. The main collaborator, insisting that they are not to blame for the slaughter, translates the words of Major Sturmbannfuhrer, who claims to be a good man with strong moral principles and a caring grandfather. The Sturmbannführer is disgusted and angered by his commander's cowardice, and tells his captors that they, as an inferior race and communist sympathisers, will eventually be exterminated. After Kosach's interrogation, the collaborator douses the prisoners with the can of petrol Florya brought, but the crowd, disgusted by the sight, shoot them all down before they can be set on fire, ending their lives relatively painlessly.
While the partisans leave to continue their fight with the Nazis, Florya stops and notices a framed portrait of Adolf Hitler in a mud puddle and shoots it repeatedly with his rifle. Interestingly enough this is also the first time Florya has ever used his rifle and fired it. After each shot, the audience witnesses history reversing itself in a poetic sequence of powerful documentary montages that play in reverse, depicting the rise of Hitler and the Third Reich. It goes backwards from corpses and victims at a concentration camp to images of Hitler as a schoolboy; and finally a picture of the infant Adolf in his mother's lap. Florya shoots at each of the images and yet stops when the photo of Adolf as an infant appears and he cannot bring himself to fire at the still shot of the baby of Hitler.
The film's title Come and See was derived from Chapter 6 of The Apocalypse of John, in which 'Come and see' is said in the first, third, fifth and seventh verses as an invitation to look upon the destruction caused by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Chapter 6, verses 7-8 has been cited as being particularly relevant to the film: "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. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth." The script had to wait eight years for approval; with the film finally produced to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Soviet victory in World War II, and was a large box-office hit, with 28,900,000 admissions in the Soviet Union alone. Klimov co-wrote the screenplay with Ales Adamovich, who fought with the Belarussian partisans as a teenager. According to the Elem Klimov's recollections, work on the film began in 1977:
"The 40th anniversary of the Great Victory was approaching. The management had to be given something topical. I had been reading and rereading the book I Am from the Burning Village, which consisted of the first-hand accounts of people who miraculously survived the horrors of the fascist genocide in Belorussia. Many of them were still alive then, and Belorussians managed to record some of their memories onto film. I will never forget the face and eyes of one peasant, and his quiet recollection about how his whole village had been herded into a church, and how just before they were about to be burned, an officer of the Sonderkommando gave them the offer: 'Whoever has no children can leave'. And he couldn't take it, he left, and left behind his wife and little kids... or about how another village was burned: the adults were all herded into a barn, but the children were left behind. And later, the drunk men surrounded them with sheepdogs and let the dogs tear the children to pieces. And then I thought: the world doesn't know about Khatyn! They know about Khatyn, about the massacre of the Polish officers there. But they don't know about Belorussia. Even though more than 600 villages were burned there! And I decided to make a film about this tragedy. I perfectly understood that the film would end up a harsh one. I decided that the central role of the village lad Florya would not be played by a professional actor, who upon immersion into a difficult role could have protected himself psychologically with his accumulated acting experience, technique and skill. I wanted to find a simple boy fourteen years of age. We had to prepare him for the most difficult experiences, then capture them on film. And at the same time, we had to protect him from the stresses so that he wasn't left in the loony bin after filming was over, but was returned to his mother alive and healthy. Fortunately, with Lyosha Kravchenko, who played Florya and who later became a good actor, everything went smoothly. 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."
For a long time, filming could not begin for Come and See. Goskino would not accept the screenplay, considering it a propaganda for the "aesthetics of dirtiness" and "naturalism". In the end, Klimov was able to start filming in 1984 without having compromised to any censorship at all. The only change became the name of the film itself, which was changed to Come and See from the original title, Kill Hitler in which Elem Klimov states in the 2006 UK DVD release. The film was shot in chronological order over a period of nine months. Aleksey Kravchenko says that he underwent "the most debilitating fatigue and hunger. I kept a most severe diet, and after the filming was over I returned to school not only thin, but grey-haired." The 2006 UK DVD sleeve states that the guns in the film were often loaded with live ammunition as opposed to blanks, for realism. Aleksei Kravchenko mentions in interviews that bullets sometimes passed just 4 inches (10 centimeters) above his head such as in the cow scene.
The original soundtrack is rhythmically amorphous music composed by Oleg Yanchenko. At a few key points in the film existing music is used, sometimes mixed in with Yanchenko's music (such as Johann Strauss Jr.'s Blue Danube). At the end, during the montage, music by Richard Wagner is used, most notably the Tannhäuser Overture and the Ride from Die Walküre. The conclusion of the film uses the Lacrimosa from Mozart's Requiem. The Soviet marching song The Sacred War is also played in the movie once. During the scene where Glasha dances, the background music is taken from Grigori Aleksandrov's 1936 film Circus.
According to Klimov, the film was so shocking for audiences that ambulances were sometimes called in to take away particularly impressionable viewers, both in the Soviet Union and abroad. During one of the after-the-film discussions, an elderly German stood up and said: "I was a soldier of the Wehrmacht; moreover, an officer of the Wehrmacht. I traveled through all of Poland and Belarus, finally reaching Ukraine. I will testify: everything that is told in this film is the truth. And the most frightening and shameful thing for me is that this film will be seen by my children and grandchildren." Rita Kempley, of the Washington Post, wrote that "directing with an angry eloquence, Klimov taps into that hallucinatory nether world of blood and mud and escalating madness that Francis Ford 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." Mark Le Fanu wrote in Sight and Sound that Come and See is a "powerful war film... The director has elicited an excellent performance form his central actor Kravchenko." Writing about Come and See, Walter Goodman of the New York Times claimed that "The history is harrowing and the presentation is graphic... Powerful material, powerfully rendered..." Daneet Steffens of Entertainment Weekly wrote that "Klimov alternates the horrors of war with occasional fairy tale-like images; together they imbue the film with an unapologetically disturbing quality that persists long after the credits roll."
What makes Come and See greatly effective and disturbing is of the casting of Florya played by Aleksey Kravchenko. I can understand why Klimov wanted to cast unknown actors in the film, because like the gritty reality of the Italian neo realism style; placing recognizable actors in these roles would only diminish the gritty power of the story. The acting and facial expressions given by Aleksey Kravchenko is some of the most realistic and frightening expressions I've ever seen projected on the screen; and his expressions perfectly capture the fears and horror of war more than any professional actor could ever achieve. The film reveals Florya's slow progression from a plucky naïve boy who volunteers into the Soviet patrician and dreams of becoming a heroic soldier.
At first he seems excited and eager to be a good soldier and within time and experience he slowly transforms into a more mature and yet scarred man who has witnessed horrific atrocities that will traumatized him for the rest of his life. When Florya is too close to an artillery explosion he is deafened, (It's technique of the ringing in his ears is something Steven Spielberg later used in Saving Private Ryan.) The loss of his hearing adds to his fear and confusion of reality because everything seems so out of touch for him and when realizing the death of his family (it's never really known if he saw their bodies stacked up behind his home), just adds to the horror and confusion; which makes everything too difficult for him to mentally come to terms with.
When he first meets Glasha, he likes her and is greatly attracted to her love of life. Unfortunately his tramatic war experiences, make him in the end believe a completely different girl is Glasha. The fate of Glasha is never known, and there may be a good chance she probably was killed. The films main theme is the traumatic horrors of war witnessed by a powerless child as the audience watches through his eyes the murder of his entire family, his comrades and of innocent civilians in cruel and inhuman ways. Florya survives the war not because of military training or quick thinking but because of random luck. As hard as it is to believe, there actually was a real life Florya who survived the horrors that he witnessed and Klimov stated in an interview, “Adamovich was the same age as the hero in the film. He and his family fought with the partisans and witnessed the genocide perpetrated by the Nazis on Belarussian soil.” Which is why Klimov chose to shoot the film in Byelorussia which was near where the real life events had occurred and chose to use no professional actors.
In most of the scenes involving realistic documentary like violence a lot of comparisons can be made to the similar way Steven Spielberg shot Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan. And yet the film also gives out an exaggeration of fantasy like dreams, with themes of madness and insanity that are most similar to the poetic symbolisms and themes used in Werner Herzog's Aguirre: The Wrath of God and Frances Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now. There's an interesting near the end after the sun sets and the soundtrack quickly breaks free and plays music from Mozart. These strange surrealistic touches are suggesting a fantasy world Florya mentally escapes to as a way to not come in terms with the brutal realities that he has to endure.
Interestingly enough, in a film that contains so much bleakness there are times where it contains so much beauty. One of the most magical scenes in the film is in the early morning after a storm the night before. Glasha decides to perform a Charlie Chaplin like dance for Florya while using his hat as a prop. These beautiful and surreal like moments is what makes this film as a whole such a powerful and meditative like experience. The shots used in the film are also artistically done using several long takes and having several of the character's speak directly right to the camera. Some of the war scenes are also cleverly shot including a scene within a field where Florya and a cow are obscured in a thick like fog; and when artillery starts to go off around them it hard to tell where the origin of the gun fire is coming from and who is shot or killed; until the fog slowly clears.
Over time Come and See is now looked at by many critics and film scholars as one of the most powerful war films ever made and one of the greatest films in the world. In 2001, J. Hoberman of the Village Voice reviewed Come and See, writing, "Directed for baroque intensity, Come and See is a robust art film with aspirations to the visionary – not so much graphic as leisurely literal-minded in its representation of mass murder. (The movie has been compared both to Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan, and it would not be surprising to learn that Steven Spielberg had screened it before making either of these.) The film's central atrocity is a barbaric circus of blaring music and barking dogs in which a squadron of drunken German soldiers round-up and parade the peasants to their fiery doom... The bit of actual death-camp corpse footage that Klimov uses is doubly disturbing in that it retrospectively diminishes the care with which he orchestrates the town's destruction. For the most part, he prefers to show the Gorgon as reflected in Perseus's shield. There are few images more indelible than the sight of young Alexei Kravchenko's fear-petrified expression. By some accounts the boy was hypnotized for the movie's final scenes – most viewers will be as well." In the same publication in 2009, Elliott Stein described Come and See as "a startling mixture of lyrical poeticism and expressionist nightmare." In 2002, Scott Tobias of The A.V. Club wrote that Klimov's "impressions are unforgettable: the screaming cacophony of a bombing run broken up by the faint sound of a Mozart fugue, a dark, arid field suddenly lit up by eerily beautiful orange flares, German troops appearing like ghosts out of the heavy morning fog. A product of the glasnost era, Come and See is far from a patriotic memorial of Russia's hard-won victory. Instead, it's a chilling reminder of that victory's terrible costs." Come and See was placed at #60 on Empire magazines The 500 Greatest Movies of all Time" in 2008 and was ranked #24 in Empire magazines 'The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema' in 2010. Phil de Semlyen of Empire has described Come and See as "Elim Klimov’s seriously influential, deeply unsettling Belarussian opus. No film – not Apocalypse Now, not Full Metal Jacket – spells out the dehumanizing impact of conflict more vividly, or ferociously... An impressionist masterpiece and possibly the worst date movie ever." Film critic Roger Ebert added Come and See to his 'Great Movies' list and said the film is, "one of the most devastating films ever about anything, and in it, the survivors must envy the dead... The film depicts brutality and is occasionally very realistic, but there's an overlay of muted nightmarish exaggeration... I must not describe the famous sequence at the end. It must unfold as a surprise for you. It pretends to roll back history. You will see how. It is unutterably depressing, because history can never undo itself, and is with us forever." Come and See is full of several surreal like moments of extraordinary power but the surreal like climax at the end of the film is probably one of the most powerful and poetic endings in cinematic history. Florya repeatedly shoots at the framed portrait of Adolf Hitler in a mud puddle and after each shot, it causes history to reverse in time in a sequence of powerful documentary montages depicting the rise of Hitler, the Third Reich, corpses and victims at a concentration camp, images of Hitler as a schoolboy; and finally a picture of the infant Adolf in his mother's lap. Florya stops shooting when the photo of Adolf as an infant appears and he cannot bring himself to fire at the still shot of the baby of Hitler. What is this ending montage trying to say? I believe Klimov is trying to get at is that evil isn't something that is born, but created and the root of all evil never directly comes from an individual person. Even Adolf Hitler, a man who committed horrible atrocities of murder, was not born evil and when he was a young child, he to cried, laughed and loved; and was probably no different from the rest of us. It is not he who is evil but the harsh world that we all inhabit that corrupts and brainwashes impressionable innocence; creating inevitable monsters everyday.