Best Of lists are designed to infuriate, obviously, to provoke debate. But even so, it seems beyond the realms of the credible that Elem Klimov’s Come and See only made it to number 71 when UK television’s Channel 4 ran a Best War Movies Ever poll a few years ago, while Ridley Scott’s fart in a biscuit tin, Black Hawk Down, sat happy at number 9. The 1985 Russian film is the best film about the Russian experience of the Second World War, one of a handful of real contenders for the best war film ever made. Following a tender 14-year-old (Aleksei Kravchenko) as he is first pressganged into joining a ragtag militia fighting the ruthless Nazis in Byelorussia, it follows a similar arc to Apocalypse Now – a journey into a heart of darkness, through scenes of increasing horror. But whereas Coppola’s film builds towards a Technicolor, operatic, hallucinogenic finale, with Klimov a more realistic end is the goal. In Come and See the dirt is not applied with a make-up artist’s brush and the bullets whistling by the terrified youngster’s head are often real. I remember seeing this shortly after it came out and coming out of the cinema filled with a mixture of shock and awe, to borrow a phrase from a later conflict. Klimov died in 2003 and never made another film, declaring that he’d “lost interest” in film-making. Could he, in any case, have topped this masterpiece?
© Steve Morrissey 2007