I looked blindly at her eyes, unable to recognise her; the blood from her mouth and her thighs seemed to originate in the same wound deep inside her; I was sure I’d been in love with her, but I couldn’t feel the mud on my face or the gun in my arms or the tearing of my lips. I’m still unsure it was her, and I know Florya was equally unsure, and the moment is soul destroying for this very reason. After two hours of intense subjectification, I was finally there with him; Florya is seeing a woman’s broken and raped body walking through the carnage and he feels it like it’s the girl he loves, and we – the audience – see it as though it’s the girl we love – our sister, our lover, our daughter. Perhaps this moment would take on another meaning if I could entirely avoid ‘the male gaze’, perhaps a far more atrocious one, but the relationship built between the protagonist (Florya) and ‘the girl he loves’ (Glasha), and the fact that we are forced into Florya’s viewpoint throughout the film, seems to invite us to experience this horrific event in parallel to Florya – as I did, much to my own anguish.
Come and See grabs your arm and tugs you innocently into the life of Florya. The film starts with a scene embodying the excitement of a danger you’re yet to fully understand. Then we are made to understand. This only accentuates the feeling of dread when we see Florya’s harrowingly naïve smile thrown at the camera over and over – the smile rising from his belief that he’ll be tugged gently towards heroism by joining the resistance movement.
The use of subjectification is perhaps the most powerful element of this film. Using subjective sound – both realistic and impressionistic – creates an immersive world, but leaves you stranded with only the experience of the characters. It creates the illusion of an expansive world by limiting your view of that world: the sonic experience of Come and See is intense and almost cluttered, but frequently seems incomplete, therefore you’re forced to auralise the space beyond the explicit sonic environment. The subjectivity of the soundscape gives you the explanations for everything you cannot hear, removing the need to hear everything.
This, when coupled with the meandering camera movement, creates a sense of freedom and space while attaching you to the perspective of characters. This experience is at its most intense directly after Florya and Glasha narrowly escape the German dive bombers; Florya loses his hearing, resulting in the near loss of the diegetic sound for the next twenty minutes of the film. This sequence is particularly poignant due to it being simultaneously the closest we get to Florya’s perspective, and it being the most relatable section of the film – we understand the charming moments the pair of teenagers share while they’re alone, together. Looking back on this sequence, I immediately saw it as respite from the harsh world of the film, but I later realised it was pivotal in creating the heart wrenching finale I opened with.
I can only see one serious flaw with this film, and that’s the transition between the moments before the Soviet soldiers overpower the SS death squad, and the scene in which we witness their execution. Watching this sequence, I was unable to pinpoint the moment at which the balance of power was reversed. Perhaps this was simply a stylistic decision in order to heighten the feeling of uncertainty over the righteousness of the Soviet executioners, but on first viewing – and currently only viewing, as I dread experiencing it again – it gives the whole sequence a momentum that doesn’t give certain events the time they need to settle.
Overall, this film is harrowingly honest. Come and See is possibly the most powerful war film I’ve ever seen, and is certainly the most thoroughly anti-war film I’ve ever seen. There is no hero. There is no winner.