Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Russia is War

The story of Russia is the story of war. Elem Klimov's 1985 masterpiece, Come and See, captures the fury and horror of Russia's worst war, World War II, as experienced in the Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic. The story is told from the point of view of a young boy, whose journey through the battlefields, villages, partisan-filled forests, and wetlands of the Belorussian SSR is the visual equivalent of a journey through hades. The boy, and a young female counterpart, experience as much of the apocalyptic landscape of World War II's Eastern Front as they are mentally capable of processing. In fact, the terrifying events of the war drive each of them, but the boy in particular, to the brink of madness, if not further. The film's method of depicting war is, paradoxically, both naturalistic and surrealistic. The Janus-face of war is probably like that. An ordinary object falls from the sky into an ordinary village, but the resulting carnage is utterly unbelievable. The film moves between gruesome scenes of genocide--stacked bodies, Germans burning villagers alive in a church, a violated woman shuffling, unnoticed, among other sufferers--and the boy's rapidly aging, shocked face. The film, released in honor of the fortieth anniversary of the Soviet Union's victory over Germany, doesn't ignore Soviet heroism. In fact, we get a glimpse of partisan soldiers, a heroic Soviet guerrilla leader, and boys digging in battlefields to discover weapons with which to combat the invading marauders. But the film is, first and foremost, a testimony to the capacity of men and women to inflict damage on one another, and to suffer.

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