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Tuesday
Jul242018

RUSSIAN WWII MASTERPIECE RESURRECTED FOR SYDNEY AUDIENCES

And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. 
And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him.” - The Book of Revelations, Chapter 6: Verse 7-8.

Elem Klimov was a young man when the German military seized Stalingrad, forcing what was left of his family to flee; with his mother and younger brother, the teenage Klimov crossed the Volga River in freezing temperatures on a makeshift raft.

With co-writer and fellow World War II survivor Ales Adamovisch, Klimov drew upon the horrors he witnessed under Nazi rule for his 1985 film Come and See (Idi I smotri), now widely considered one of the most harrowing depictions of wartime suffering ever filmed. Australian audiences have a rare opportunity to see the film courtesy of the Russian Resurrection Film Festival, who will be screening a digitally remastered print this Sunday, July 29 in Sydney and Brisbane.

Come and See depicts the journey of a young man named Florya, played by 14 year-old non-actor Aleksei Kravchenko (pictured, top) in one of international cinema’s most remarkable film debuts. Klimov (pictured, right) and Adamovich present Florya as an idealistic freedom fighter, determined to rid his Eastern European homeland of Byelorussia (modern Belarus) of the German occupiers. As the young man’s narrative unfolds, the audience endures through his naïve experiences horrific acts of genocide, destruction and cruelty. Almost every moment in the film is based upon documented fact; Adamovich hailed from the region during the period and Klimov shot much of his film on the very soil that the atrocities took place.

Prior to his wartime masterpiece, Elem Klimov had forged a respected career for himself within the Russian sector with films such as the popular satires Welcome, or No Trespassing (1964) and Adventures of a Dentist (1965); the docu-drama Sport, Sport, Sport (1970); and, the troubled historical epic Agony The Rise and Fall of Rasputin, which debuted in 1981, despite principal photography having wrapped in 1976. In 1979, Klimov lost his wife, fellow filmmaker Larisa Shepitko in a car accident; he dedicated the early 80s to producing a short feature in her honour, named Larisa (1980) and finishing her own dream project, a social drama called Proshchanie (1983).

Many critics and film scholars have surmised that it was the grip of this dark period of grief that inspired Klimov’s use of language, sound and visual motifs in Come and See. Florya, young innocent Glasha (Olga Mironova; pictured, below) and much of the support cast spend their roles directly staring into the camera as their world and loved ones disintegrate before them; Klimov’s audience is party to the nightmarish escalation of violence and brutality via the first-person technique, resulting in a world of horribly-skewed disorientation yet rendered in vivid, stark honesty. The director’s soundscape has been lauded as revolutionary; the use of impressionistic surrealism to interpret torture and murder on a vast scale proves inescapably confronting for both Florya and the viewer.

The film was released to coincide with the 40th anniversary of Russia’s WWII victory and drew some criticism from quarters who thought it was propagandistic. The portrayal of the German officers (based upon the infamous 36th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS) is unforgiving, yet Klimov stated vehemently many times that the film is anti-war and anti-fascism but not anti-German. Come and See became a box office sensation in its homeland, was submitted as Russia’s Foreign Film Oscar entrant (although was not selected) and would earn two major trophies at the 1985 Moscow International Film Festival.

Klimov was named the First Secretary of the Russian Filmmakers' Union, a newly-established, progressively-minded industry body that, in the then prevailing spirit of ‘glasnost’, opened the film industry to fresh new ideologies. His masterwork would grow in stature in the prevailing years, with industry luminaries such as Oscar winning screenwriter Frank Pierson (Cool Hand Luke, 1967; Dog Day Afternoon, 1975) and two-time WGA award recipient Larry Karaszewski (Ed Wood, 1994; The People vs Larry Flynt, 1996) calling it the greatest war film ever made. Cinematographer Roger Deakins, Oscar winning cinematographer of Blade Runner 2019, includes Come and See as one his ‘10 Greatest Films of All Time’; Empire magazine named Come and See one of the 100 Best Films of World Cinema, stating “No film – not Apocalypse Now, not Full Metal Jacket – spells out the dehumanising impact of conflict more vividly, or ferociously.” As voted by a prestigious body of film directors, it ranked 30th on Sight and Sound’s poll of The Greatest Films Ever Made.

In an interview in 1986, Klimov (pictured, left; on-set, directing Kravchenko) addressed the responsibility of the role he had undertaken within the Union and when his next project would be announced. “I would much rather not have my present job. I didn't want this job in the first place,” he said with a laugh. “But this is a special moment right now. A lot of changes have to be made quickly. I am completely absorbed in this new job. But I hope that perhaps next year I will be able to start a new film.”

A fitting legacy, Come and See proved to be Elem Klimov’s final work. He remained committed to his work within the bureaucracy of the Russian film industry until his passing in October 2003, aged 70.

The Russian Resurrection Film Festival with present COME AND SEE at the Event Cinemas George Street Sydney and Event Cinemas Myer Centre Brisbane this Sunday, July 29. Ticketing information is via the venue's official website.

 

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