The 50 greatest World War II movies: part six

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And so we come to the end of the list, and though there have been numerous pretenders to the crown, our number one film is nothing less than a masterpiece of modern cinema. So, take it away, Elem Klimov...

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50-41 | 40-31 | 30-21 |
| 20-11 | 10-2

1. Come and See (1985)

Directed by Elem KlimovThe true face of modern warfare, and it's far from pretty.Making the infamous opening 15 minutes of Spielberg’s ‘Saving Private Ryan’ look about as brutal as a Sunday afternoon’s stroll down Chesil Beach, Elem Klimov’s hallucinatory ‘Come and See’ feels like the nearest cinema has ever come to recreating the ruthlessly discombobulating sensory experiences of war. After much angry deliberation, we thought it fitting to place this singular work at the head of the list, not merely in tribute to its bracingly original and candid take on the human toll of warfare, but as a work of sublime visual and aural intensity that uses every tool available in the cinematic arsenal to distinct and often nauseating effect.

come and see.jpg

With its title referencing the end of days as described in the Book of Revelations, Klimov’s desultory opera of human wickedness is often compared to Coppola’s ‘Apocalypse Now’ in the way it presents the onset of madness as a lone man burrows deeper and deeper into war-ravaged territories. ‘Come and See’, though, is told from the perspective of young Byelorussian lad Florya (Aleksei Kravchenko), an army recruit whose plucky optimism is ripped from beneath him as the platoon he’s inducted into are massacred. He is then forced on a torturous expedition across the countryside with would-be girlfriend Glasha (Olga Mironova) where he suffers unspeakable indignities at every turn.

Klimov does everything in his power to place us inside Florya’s head, from replacing the soundtrack with a high-pitched ringing when a bomb explodes in his close vicinity, to filming a shot where he has to wade through a huge puddle of mud in excruciating real time. Indeed, it’s ironic that the film takes place in the same country where such spiritually enlightened masters as Tarkovsky, Dovzhenko and Sokurov were able to hint at the presence of a divine being in their shots of shimmering fields and flickering fire, as Klimov’s film states in no uncertain terms that if there is a god, then he was out for a very long lunch in the early ’40s.

Though he said in a recent interview with Time Out that he'd not seen the film, Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Inglourious Basterds’ contains numerous similarities to ‘Come and See’, not least its famous closing shot where Florya unloads a machine gun into a discarded portrait of the Fuhrer. Except, where Tarantino’s film playfully offers a self-reflexive fantasy of Jewish revenge, Klimov’s denouement contains altogether less encouraging connotations, suggesting that there are no heroes in war – only victims and perpetrators – and that no amount of guns and ammo will be able to expunge or reconcile the memory of the holocaust. A disorienting, downbeat and unforgettable classic. DJ

Watch a clip from the film here

Read the original Time Out review here

Explore the list...

50-41 | 40-31 | 30-21 | 20-11 | 10-2

Author: Adam Lee Davies, Dave Calhoun, Paul Fairclough, David Jenkins, Tom Huddleston, Quentin Tarantino



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