Come and See is a 1985 Soviet war drama thriller film directed by Elem Klimov, with a screenplay written by Klimov and Ales Adamovich based on the 1978 book I Am from the Fiery Village.
The film focuses upon the Nazi German occupation of Belarus, and primarily upon the events witnessed by a young Belarusian partisan teenager named Flyora, who – against his parents’ wishes – joins the Belarusian resistance movement, and thereafter depicts the Nazi atrocities and human suffering inflicted upon the populace.
In 1943, two Byelorussian boys dig in a sand-filled trench looking for abandoned rifles in order to join the Soviet partisan forces. Their village elder warns them not to dig up the weapons as it will arouse the suspicions of the Germans. One of the boys, Flyora, finds an SVT-40 rifle, though the both of them are seen by an Fw 189 flying overhead. The next day, partisans arrive at Flyora’s house to conscript him. Flyora becomes a low-rank militiaman and is ordered to perform menial tasks. When the partisans are ready to move on, an old partisan says that he wants to stay behind because his boots are falling apart. The partisan commander, Kosach, orders the old man to swap boots with Flyora and for Flyora to remain behind at the camp. Bitterly disappointed, Flyora walks into the forest weeping and meets Glasha, a young girl working as a nurse in the camp, and the two bond before the camp is suddenly attacked by German paratroopers and dive bombers. Flyora is partially deafened from explosions before the two hide in the forest to avoid the German soldiers. Flyora and Glasha travel to his village, only to find his home deserted and covered in flies. Denying that his family is dead, Flyora believes that they are hiding on a nearby island across a bog. As they run from the village in the direction of the bogland, Glasha glances across her shoulder, seeing a pile of executed villagers’ bodies stacked behind a house, but does not alert Flyora. The two become hysterical after wading through the bog, where Glasha then screams at Flyora that his family are actually dead in the village. They are soon met by Roubej, a partisan fighter, who takes them to a large group of villagers who have fled the Germans. Flyora sees the village elder, badly burnt by the Germans, who tells him that he witnessed his family’s execution and that he should not have dug up the rifles. Flyora accepts that his family is dead and blames himself for the tragedy.
Roubej takes Flyora and two other men to find food at a nearby warehouse, only to find it being guarded by German troops. During their retreat, the group unknowingly wanders through a minefield resulting in the deaths of the two companions. That evening Roubej and Flyora sneak up to an occupied village and manage to steal a cow from a collaborating farmer. However, as they escape across an open field, Roubej and the cow are shot and killed by a German machine gun. The next morning, Flyora attempts to steal a horse and cart but the owner catches him and instead of doing him harm, he helps hide Flyora’s identity when SS troops approach. Flyora is taken to the village of Perekhody, where they hurriedly discuss a fake identity for him, while the SS unit (based on the Dirlewanger Brigade) accompanied by Ukrainian collaborators surround and occupy the village. Flyora tries to warn the townsfolk they are being herded to their deaths, but is forced to join them inside a church. Flyora and a young woman bearing a strong resemblance to Glasha manage to escape; the young woman is dragged by her hair across the ground and into a truck to be gang raped, while Flyora is forced to watch as grenades are thrown into the church before it is set ablaze and shot. A German officer points a gun to Flyora’s head to pose for a picture before leaving him to slump to the ground as the soldiers leave.
Flyora later wanders out of the scorched village in the direction of the Germans, where he discovers they had been ambushed by the partisans. After recovering his jacket and rifle, Flyora comes across the young woman who had also escaped the church in a fugue state and covered in blood after having been gang-raped and brutalised. Flyora returns to the village and finds that his fellow partisans have captured eleven of the Germans and their collaborators, including the commander, an SS-Sturmbannführer. While some of the captured men including the commander plead for their lives and deflect blame, a young fanatical officer bluntly tells the captors that their people have no right to exist and they will carry out their mission. Kosach then forces most of the collaborators to douse the Germans with a can of petrol but the disgusted crowd shoots them all before they can be set on fire. As the partisans leave, Flyora notices a framed portrait of Adolf Hitler in a puddle and proceeds to shoot it numerous times. As he does so, a montage of clips from Hitler’s life play in reverse, but when Hitler is shown as a baby on his mother’s lap, Flyora stops shooting and cries.
In the final scene, a partisan officer calls out to a low-ranking recruit. Flyora turns, but an obedient youth rushes past him, and Flyora realises he is now a full partisan. He then catches up and blends in with his partisan comrades marching through the woods as snow blankets the ground. As they disappear into the birch forest, a title informs: “628 Belorussian villages were destroyed, along with all their inhabitants.
Based on the book I Am from the Fiery Village by Ales Adamovich, Janka Bryl, and Vladimir Kolesnik
Trivia & Goofs
- Come and See had to wait eight years for approval from Soviet authorities before the film was 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.
- For eight years, filming could not begin because the State Committee for Cinematography (Goskino) would not accept the screenplay, considering it propaganda for the “aesthetics of dirtiness” and “naturalism”.
- Eventually in 1984, Klimov was able to start filming 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
- The film was selected as the Soviet entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 58th Academy Awards, but was not accepted as a nominee.
- Klimov co-wrote the screenplay with Ales Adamovich, who fought with the Belarusian partisans as a teenager.
- Many of the uniforms seen throughout the film are originals.
- Live ammunition was used in the film – in interviews, actor Aleksey Kravchenko has described actual bullets passing some 10 centimetres above his head.
Production & Filming Details
- Director: Elem Klimov.
- Writers: Elem Klimov and Ales Adamovich.
- Music: O. Yanchenko.
- Cinematography: A. Rodionov.
- Editor: V. Belova.
- Production: Mosfilm and Belarusfilm.
- Distributor: Sovexportfilm.
- Release Date: July 1985 (Moscow).
- Running Time: 142 Minutes.
- Country: Soviet Union.
- Language: Belarusian, Russian, and German.