• Ryan McDonald

Born in July: Come & See... Elem Klimov (PRINDIE Film Forum)

Updated: Jul 22, 2020

JULY'S DIRECTOR! Continuing the trend of last month, I want to shine a light on Russian filmmaker Elem Klimov - born July 9th, 1933 - whose name has resurfaced recently with Criterion's brand-new 2K restoration of the traumatizing, anti-war masterpiece, Come and See.

This legendary film from Soviet director Elem Klimov is a senses-shattering plunge into the dehumanizing horrors of war. As Nazi forces encroach on his small village in Belorussia, teenage Flyora (Alexei Kravchenko, in a searing depiction of anguish) eagerly joins the Soviet resistance. Rather than the adventure and glory he envisioned, what he finds is a waking nightmare of unimaginable carnage and cruelty—rendered with a feverish, otherworldly intensity by Klimov’s subjective camera work and expressionistic sound design. Nearly blocked from being made by Soviet censors, who took seven years to approve its script, Come and See is perhaps the most visceral, impossible-to-forget antiwar film ever made.

Few filmmakers transcend the conventions of the genres they craft in; With Come and See, Klimov managed to formulate a war film and a phantasmagorical drama, that is blanketed by horror and seemingly concocted straight from the deepest circle of The Inferno. In fact, maybe wait for Halloween, for I'd be hard-pressed to recommend anything more haunting. A kindred spirit of sorts to Cormac McCarthy's novel The Blood Meridian (eerily also released in 1985), in the sense where modern art dances so closely with demons but commands fresh acclaim decades later for its poetry. The result is a film, unlike any other, and after it was completed, Elem Klimov quit filmmaking forever.

In 1979, Klimov's wife Larisa Shepitko died in a car accident while directing an ecological fable based on a famous novel by Valentin Rasputin called Farewell to Matyora. A year after her death Klimov filmed a 25-minute tribute to his wife entitled "Larisa" (1980), then went on to finish the film she had started. Despite being shelved for two years after completion, Farewell was still released in 1983.
His wife's death had a profound impact on Klimov. All his subsequent films were tragedies. His next film, Come and See, was released in 1985 to worldwide acclaim and won the Golden Prize at the 14th Moscow International Film Festival.The film depicts the experiences of a 15-year-old boy joining the resistance in German-occupied Byelorussia in 1943. Speaking of how the film drew on his own childhood experience of the war, Klimov said, "As a young boy, I had been in hell... Had I included everything I knew and shown the whole truth, even I could not have watched it."
In 1986, fresh from the success of Come and See, and with the changes brought by perestroika in the air, Klimov was chosen by his colleagues to be the First Secretary of the Filmmakers' Union following the V Congress of the Soviet Filmmakers. During the congress, all previous heads of the Filmmakers' Union — including Lev Kulidzhanov, Sergei Bondarchuk, Stanislav Rostotsky, and others — were overthrown in favor of "liberal" activists. According to some critics and filmmakers, the congress was conducted by Alexander Yakovlev, one of the grey cardinals of Perestroika who was unofficially presented there, consulting the activists from time to time.

For more information on Elem Klimov and his masterpiece Come and See, check out this reflection from director Ari Aster (Hereditary, Midsommar) in Film Comment:


You can purchase Come and See here: https://www.criterion.com/films/28895-come-and-see or stream on The Criterion Channel.

Also see, Wikipedia on Elem Klimov

Join the PRINDIE Film Forum for more discussions!

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