The horrors of war achieve an astonishing new clarity in Criterion’s new 2K restoration
My inaugural piece for Cinapse just over a year ago was covering Elem Klimov’s Come and See for my Catching Up with the Classics project. It’s a disturbing, brutal film, one that felt like wholly necessary viewing but one I doubted I would revisit again.
Ever since I first watched the film, though, Come and See has made an indelible impact on me — as it has with many audiences since its 1985 premiere. Borne of the oral histories of the Belorussian massacres of World War II collected by Ales Adamovich and writer-director Elem Klimov’s own incendiary wartime experiences, Come and See was produced and released at a time when European powers began to more deeply reckon with their conflict-ridden pasts at the twilight of the Cold War. Stripped of the justifications of nationalism and patriotic duty, Klimov and Cinematographer Aleksey Rodionov turned the forests and fields of Belorussia into an unending hellfire, dictated by a cruel, dreamlike non-logic filled with humans and demons indistinguishable from one another. Throughout, preteen partisan Flyora struggles to maintain his sanity as bullets and brutality strip him of his family, his freedom, and eventually his spark of life. His deadening eyes remain a riveting, yet fraying connection between us and the boy he increasingly used to be — capturing the soul-draining and senseless nature of war in such a way that newsreels, propaganda, and statistics can’t. It revives the anger and fury of the past in a feverishly contemporary way, ultimately urging its audience to recognize what choices can be made in our present to prevent such atrocities from ever occurring again.
I naturally approached Criterion’s new restoration of Come and See with a marked trepidation. While I greatly appreciated the film, my prior experience with Come and See was limited by the low-quality transfer the film had received. Sound and dialogue was washed-out, and picture quality varied between sublime and unintelligible. In short, as immersive as the film was, there was still the occasional distance between myself and the work. It was a historical document, one rooted firmly in the past as much as its lessons proved timely and current. However, given my initial reactions to the film, what better opportunity to revisit a seemingly unrewatchable film than to see it as originally intended?
As a result of restoration efforts taken by Mosfilm in 2017, Come and See feels wholly resurrected, from its delirious, hallucinatory sound mix of bullets and windy forests to the grisly, gritty textures of Belorussian fields and piling corpses. The experience of watching the film is seriously augmented by this new transfer — and the equal dedication and care Criterion has put into their supplements provides necessary and enriching historical and artistic context to one of cinema’s most memorable nightmares. Ranging from the laborious efforts of the crew to not just get the film made, but past the Russian censors before and after production, to Come and See’s role in navigating the increasingly political landscape of acknowledging Wartime atrocities in Cold War Europe, Criterion has done justice to Come and See and its well-earned place in film canon.
Ultimately, Come and See is worth multiple revisits in this brilliant new restoration — as well as Criterion’s impressive complimentary collection of sobering archival material.
Criterion’s release of Come and See is presented in 1080p HD in the original 1.37:1 aspect ratio, sourced from a 2017 2K restoration by Mosfilm from the original 35mm negative. The 1.0 Monaural track of Belarusian, Russian, and German was also restored from the original 35mm track. English Subtitles accompany the main feature, as well as the non-English-speaking sections of the Blu-ray’s special features. In a rarity for their releases, Criterion’s Blu-ray is accessible by both Region A & B Blu-ray players.
In much of the world, Come and See’s predominantly existed in VHS-quality, ramshackle transfers from unrestored elements from when DVD was in its infancy. For better and for worse, the breathtaking depravity of Elem Klimov’s film is now restored in Mosfilm’s 2K restoration. The beauty of nature and the bloodshed within it is brought to life in all of its grimy detail, from the fraying patchwork on the characters’ clothes, to the bubbling muck of a Belorussian bog, to the wiry veins of a dying cow’s eyeball. The sound design is also razor sharp for a monaural track — the static and muffled gunfire of past transfers has been digitally cleaned up and restored, creating a hellish aural landscape that at times reflects Flyora’s increasingly damaged hearing.
Part of me wishes that this transfer of the film didn’t exist — so that the horrors of Come and See could feel more distant and locked to the past. To see it in such stellar quality is to reflect on how close to our present these depicted atrocities truly are.
- Roger Deakins: In a 2019 interview, the legendary cinematographer reflects on how the film influenced his body of work, notably his latest Oscar-winning 1917. Deakins also discusses the responsibility of filmmakers when telling stories of war, and balancing the natural instinct of finding a beautiful shot with the disturbing contents within it.
- German Klimov: A 2019 interview with director Elem Klimov’s surviving brother and frequent collaborator, in which he discusses his brother’s overarching film career and motivations for creating Come and See.
- Flaming Memory: Three 1975–1977 shorts by Viktor Dashuk in collaboration with Ales Adamovich, the author of Come and See’s inspiration, Out of the Fire. Each film is an extended interview with firsthand survivors of the Belorussian massacres, and are just as harrowing as the disc’s main feature.
- Elem Klimov: A 2001 archival interview with the film’s writer/director where he discusses his own World War II experiences, how he came across the film’s source material, his experiences training star Alexei Kravchenko, and the overwhelming physical response by audiences as a result of the film.
- Alexei Kravchenko: A 2001 archival interview with Come and See’s lead actor. His initial frustrations with Klimov’s non-direction give way to his appreciation of how his first film production was a fiery formative experience for him as an actor.
- Viktor Petrov: A 2001 archival interview with the film’s production designer, discussing the stop-and-start nature of Come and See’s embittered pre-production process against Russian censors, the mechanics of shooting in remote forest locations, and creating a historically-faithful, gruesome world for Come and See.
- The Story of the Film Come and See: An archival featurette from 1985 documenting the film’s production for Russian State TV.
- Theatrical Trailer for Janus’ stateside release of Come and See’s restoration.
- Orphans of the Storm: An essay from film professor and frequent Criterion contributor Mark Le Fanu, in which he discusses the traumatizing dedication of the film’s creatives, its role in contextualizing Wartime history for modern audiences, as well as Come and See’s complicated role in acting as potential propaganda to rationalize Russia’s own actions during World War II, all while recognizing the film’s deserved canonization as a masterpiece.
- Read and See: An essay from poet and professor Valzhyna Mort, contextualizing the work of Ales Adamovich (whose novels Khatyn and Out of the Fire provided the initial basis for Come and See) within Adamovich’s own origins and traumatic wartime experiences, as well as the greater historical reckoning of Belarus and Russia as further records documenting the razing of Belorussian villages increased in public knowledge.
Come and See is now available on Blu-ray and DVD from The Criterion Collection, as well as on The Criterion Channel.