The war genre for many years has been one of the most prolific in cinema. There have been so many films framed on this subject that catching the viewer by surprise is quite a difficult task. We have seen the Norman Landing in several films of different nationalities, but we will all remember the beginning of ‘Saving Private Ryan’ for the impressive and spectacular nature of his images representing this historical event. There are many films set in the famous Vietnam War, being surely the most exploited war in American cinema, but ‘Apocalypse Now’ or ‘Platoon’ they leave an indelible mark on those who see them, even though it may only be for some scenes. There have also been more poetic or gentle approaches to WWII, such as ‘The thin red line’ or the wonderful ‘Life is Beautiful’. What I mean by this paragraph is that in war cinema we have had them in all shapes and colors, more conventional films, some that generally are, but have some scenes that stand out above the average and others (a few) that are they move away from any cliché and convey the war from a different point of view. ‘Come and look’ It is so different and special that I cannot fit it into any of these categories.
This production, surprisingly, was born as a commission by the Soviet authorities of the time to celebrate the 40th anniversary of their victory against the Nazis in World War II. Of course, the original idea was to make a much more conventional film, and director Elem Klimov had to fight for his particular vision of the war to come through. One way or another, he succeeded, and gave us this raw experience and a hardness that goes beyond the barriers of fiction, where there is no trace of military propaganda. The first minutes (more typical of a horror film) are already a sample of how poetic and strange it is throughout all its footage. We will experience the brutality of a war from the eyes of a 13-year-old boy named Florian, who is excited about the idea of joining the army and proudly defending his country. When his mother receives the news from Florian himself, she breaks into desperate tears, being fully aware that her son, regardless of whether he returns or not, will never again be that kind and smiling child that they present to us at the beginning of the film.
The film is, in essence, Florian’s descent into hell and his loss of innocence. Curiously, despite the fact that lyricism, the poetic and the experimental are determining factors when defining this film, Elem Klimov is very clear about the forcefulness with which he wants to hit the viewer, and makes it a fairly literal film. It is not convoluted and there is no room for second interpretations. Nor is it gimmicky. It reveals the absence of goodness on the part of the Nazis, dehumanizing them, and sentences them and represents them in a totally excessive and grotesque way that only makes them go further with the passing of the minutes, reaching points where they seem like villains taken out. from a cartoon movie. The misery of war is reflected in a much more natural way, looking at small details or phrases with great meaning. Florian, like the viewer, is languishing more and more and more and more, and those close-ups of his face are the history of cinema for the great meaning they have and the enormous impact they cause when they see them. The evolution of the character consists of an involution, in a loss of everything that makes the child child, maturing at forced marches and in a totally hostile environment. He talks about the war and its consequences in a way that has never been seen and does not base his speech on good and bad, only. In fact, the Nazis only appear in the last act. Klimov is much more interested in talking about humanity and life than in leaving the Soviets as superior beings.
Technically it is a prodigy. Aleksei Rodionov’s photography is astonishing, sometimes so dark that you hardly notice anything, but it adds points to the very plausible aspect that the entire film presents. This is due to the fact that it was carried out in natural light, a very laborious technique that greatly limits the possibilities. But Rodionov manages to control the sunlight to darken the face of a character when the director wants to emphasize the macabre of that moment or that the firing of a flare contrasts with the sad Soviet night giving rise to one of the most beautiful scenes of the whole set. Green meadows or desolate deserts are enhanced by Rodionov’s great work, and Klimov takes it upon himself to create incredible shots in those settings. The hardest scenes are impossible to forget, the director knows how to suffocate and harass the viewer using the appropriate resources at all times. The sound design is also brilliant, and atypical. It is disturbing and uncomfortable (it may recall the one we see in David Lynch films), adding much to the depressing and pessimistic setting that the film has throughout its duration. The cast, practically full of amateur actors, is perfect, obviously highlighting the protagonist Aleksi Krvchenko, who makes a brutal tour de forc.
Thus, Elem Klimov, with all these elements, manages to make a true masterpiece. A viewing that remains marked in your retina forever, that makes you doubt the fictitiousness of the images you are viewing and that finishes off the task with a dose of devastating reality. An essential film to make us reflect on the violence of the human being.
By Marc Sacristn Garca