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I Came, I Saw…

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 20, 2007 by dcairns

Aleksei Kravchenko

Since I’ve been going on about faces rather a lot (more on BODIES, soon), I couldn’t very well fail to mention this little chap, Aleksei Kravchenko, in COME AND SEE, which I re-saw recently at a screening I put on at Screen Academy Scotland.

(Screening this film is problematic: I was approached by more than one person with the question, “What are you showing tonight?” and when I replied, “Come and See,” they’d say, “But what are you showing?” and the whole thing turned into a protracted Abbott & Costello routine.)

Elem Klimov’s astonishingly powerful and horrific WWII movie is another of those films which is relentlessly dark and negative, but never becoems depressing. One emerges glad to be alive. A big part of the film’s power comes from the extraordinary central performance by young Kravchenko, whose commitment to the role of a young partisan fighting the Nazis in Belarus was so strong that Klimov and his crew  feared for the boy’s sanity. Although Klimov’s humanitarian impulses were not strong enough to prevent him from, like William Wellman in his 30s gangster films, using live ammo…

Anyhow, the face is eloquent, what I call a PROFOUND FACE, and the performance powerful, and at times Kravchenko looks like a bad drawing (like I might draw) of my nephew Calum, which also intensifies my emotional responses… although what we really get is the Universal Face of Suffering Humanity, filtered through the specifics of a single person’s features. 

The makeup is also hugely important, as the hero’s shattering experiences gradually give him the weathered face of an old man…

Klimov’s wife, Larissa Shepitko, directed THE ASCENT, which is maybe the ultimate film about the Eastern Front, whereas Klimov’s movie is more of a descent into Hell than an altogether realistic portrait of a campaign, but the effect is of an engrossing psychological realism, with the commitment to P.O.V. maintained relentlessly: when the boy is deafened by exploding shells, the soundtrack is engulfed by a droning, ringing tinnitus effect that continues, slowly fading, for the next half hour of screen time. Compared to this, those moments in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN where Tom Hanks’ hearing is affected are like the Tom & Jerry version.

Klimov’s heavy use of steadicam reminds me of another film of sweeping movement towards death, acts of violence we don’t want to see but are driven ineluctably towards: the BBC play ELEPHANT, written by Bernard MacLaverty, directed by Alan Clarke.