Come and See
This legendary film from Soviet director Elem Klimov is a senses-shattering plunge into the dehumanizing horrors of war. As Nazi forces encroach on his small village in Belorussia, teenage Flyora (Alexei Kravchenko, in a searing depiction of anguish) eagerly joins the Soviet resistance. Rather than the adventure and glory he envisioned, what he finds is a waking nightmare of unimaginable carnage and cruelty—rendered with a feverish, otherworldly intensity by Klimov’s subjective camera work and expressionistic sound design. Nearly blocked from being made by Soviet censors, who took seven years to approve its script, Come and See is perhaps the most visceral, impossible-to-forget antiwar film ever made.
The Criterion Collection presents Elem Klimov’s Come and See on Blu-ray in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1 on a dual-layer disc. The 1080p/24hz high-definition encode is sourced from a new 2K restoration performed by Mosfilm and scanned from the 35mm original negative.
The restoration looks incredible and Criterion’s Blu-ray does a magnificent job presenting it. Fine object-detail really dives off of the screen in every shot, from fine hairs and wrinkles found in the numerous close-ups throughout the film, to the trees, vegetation, and debris presented in longer shots. The close-ups on the protagonist throughout the film are especially something, as it becomes far clearer how his face is aging as the film progresses. The last couple of close-ups on him are just stunning in the amount of detail now present there.
The film has a drearier look and colours can be muted, though they seem to take more of a teal-like tone with this presentation, and I don’t doubt this is how the film is supposed to look. At the very least it suits it in giving the film a beautiful yet bleak and cold look. There are pops of colour found in some fires that occur, and there is a gorgeous shot involving bullets flying overheard, which streak the sky with red lines. Black levels look astounding as well, rich and deep without crushing out detail, allowing those details in the shadows to still come through. Similar to Stalker, this restoration drops the tint that was placed over black-and-white sequences (archival footage in this case) and it is presented in simple black-and-white. (Correction: I was thinking of Solaris, not Stalker, in relation to tinting. Criterion's Solaris Blu-ray removed a blue tint while their edition of Stalker made a sepia tint more prominent.)
Grain is very fine but is still visible and rendered cleanly, and I didn’t note any artifacts on screen. The restoration has also done a fantastic job in cleaning up damage: outside of the archival footage at the end of the film there is nothing to speak of, and even that archival footage has obviously gone through a process all its own, so that it ends up looking sharp and clear itself.
Overall it’s a stunner of a presentation, just as pleasing as what Stalker offered, and it’s an enormous improvement over what was available previously.
(NOTE: This release has been encoded for regions A and B, so while Criterion has not officially released the film in the UK, this disc will play in region B players. I checked it on my own region B player it played perfectly fine. I did check on another player that I can set to region C and it gave me a region error so it does appear to be only limited to those two regions, though I will note that I’ve had issues with that player in the past. It did play when I set that player back to B, though.)
Criterion includes the film’s original Russian monaural presentation in lossless PCM. Criterion has not ported over the 5.1 surround remix that was found on the previous Kino and RusCiCo DVDs.
Despite the soundtrack being a single-channel mono presentation it manages to pack an incredible punch to it. The film’s sound design and mix are both remarkably elaborate and it seems to get more intense as the film progresses. Though it makes use of a number of classical pieces, the film’s main “score” makes use of the sound of a droning plane (I always assumed it was a reference to that ever-present threat hanging over the film’s protagonist) and it’s mixed at various levels, depending on what’s appropriate at the moment, and it can pack an incredible punch at times. The sound design gets elaborate in other ways, like muffling out certain sounds at times while enhancing others, and it never comes off screeching or weak. The level of range between the highs and lows is also impressive, and the more action-packed sequences, involving explosions and gunfire, are mixed louder but they never come off harsh and do sound clean and natural, delivering incredible fidelity. Dialogue may be the only weak element: in comparison to the everything else it comes off incredibly flat and does stick out compared to every other aspect of the track.
It’s almost a shame that Criterion didn’t port over the 5.1 sound track, because it would fit the film just fine since it seems determined to put you in the middle of this hell the film presents, but RusCiCo’s surround remixes were pretty spotty at best.
(Addition: Interestingly, I learned through members of our forum that the film was released with a 3.0 or 3.1 stereo soundtrack. As to why Criterion didn't include it here I can't say. Considering the film's sound design, it's an absolute shame they didn't.)
Outside of some archival material found on previous DVDs Criterion does appear to have ported everything over from the Kino/RusCiCo discs, which included three interviews: one with director Elem Klimov (21-minutes), actor Aleksei Kravchenko (14-minutes), and production designer Viktor Petrov (8-minutes). Petrov goes into getting the film’s more documentary-like look, from sets to cotumes, while Kravchenko talks about his casting (which he fell into) and the experience of working with Klimov and filming certain scenes. Klimov’s is the more in-depth interview, the filmmaker giving a history to the project (born out of a desire to show a true representation of the war after most films had been action-adventures) that spanned about 7 years because of censors and such having issues with the subject matter (his original title, Kill Hitler, was also a no-no).
Criterion then packs on several new features, which includes a couple of exclusive interviews. First they have recorded an excellent 10-minute interview with director of photography Roger Deakins. Deakins lists Come and See as one of his favourite films and he explains why he is so awe-struck by the film’s visuals and framing and how it has inspired him, really gushing over it and its use of the Academy ratio and the Steadicam in a few shots. It ends up making for a great analysis of the film’s visuals and what makes them so striking and impactful.
The director’s brother, German Klimov, also records a new interview, running 27-minutes. He covers some of the same ground that his brother did in the other interview (including how the title Come and See came about, though it differs a bit here) but expands on many details, like the events that led up to the film finally being made, and then production specific things like filming the barn sequence, where they ended up using locals who were probably around when the actual events happened. He then closes off discussing his brother’s heading of the Soviet Filmmakers Union.
The best feature on here, though, are three films from a five-part series about the atrocities Belarussians faced from the Nazis during the war, directed by Viktor Dashuk and called Facing Memories. The three films are Handful of Sand (10-minutes), Mute Scream (11-minutes), and Woman from the Killed Village (28-minutes), and all were filmed around 1975 according to the notes here (looking them up online suggests different years for each). Each film features one or more participants recounting the horrors they witnessed and survived during the war as the Nazis made their way through, burning down villages and murdering the villagers. Some of these stories are similar to what occurs in the film, so I assume that’s why these films were chosen specifically, but I’m unsure as to why Criterion didn’t include the other two. At any rate, even though they’re primarily interviews the films are not easy to watch, the participants recounting such horrors as being buried alive or gathered into a church with the knowledge of what was going to follow. Woman from the Killed Village may be the toughest one, and not only because it has flashes of archival footage around the atrocities committed, but the interviewee’s account in this case covers what happened to her, her husband, and the entire village, and there was one regret that still haunted her to that day that is incredibly devastating. But with this one, she also talks about how she got her life back together after the war, showing how one can still work to move on.
They can be hard to watch but they’re important to have and I’m happy Criterion found it worthwhile to include them. They also look to have been restored (to an extent) and are presented here in high-definition.
The disc then closes with a trailer touting the new restoration, along with a 10-minute production featurette from 1985 called The Story of the Film “Come and See,” featuring interviews with Elem Klimov, a young Kravchenko, and writer Ales Adamovich. The interviews are pretty brief but some behind-the-scene footage of Klimov rehearsing a scene makes this a worthwhile addition.
Criterion also includes a booklet featuring an essay on the film by Mark Le Fanu, but I was more struck by the second piece, written by Valzhyna Mort on writer Ales Adamovich. Adamovich gets a lot of mention throughout the features (and shows up in the archival featurette), but otherwise doesn’t have any material devoted specifically to him. This essay, covering his career, work, and impact fills in that gap nicely.
In the end, Criterion has put together a satisfying collection of supplements, covering the film’s production, it’s subject matter, those behind it, and it’s visual style.
Criterion has put together a fantastic special edition for the film, loading on several supplements around the film’s production and its subject matter, while also giving the film a superb audio/video presentation. A very highly recommended edition.