My Twentieth Century (1989)

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Early piece from Ildikó Enyedi, watched as a film night with M.

Hard not to love at the start. Second Run released this recently, which makes connections between Edison’s lightbulb parade and the cover of Pictures of the Old World inevitable. The beauty of the cinematography is very different here, though: every shot could be paused and made into a participant’s documentary snap; we’re made to feel like part of the story in every vignette. This despite some overtly cinematic stylings, as in the early montage of technology and exploration, as well as the dog-eared situations like a train encounter, a boat rendezvous, shopping for necklaces. The conceit of the twin girls split on a Christmas night is lovably Dickensian, while the typographical labelling gives this a weirdly 21st-century ironic edge.

Casting Dorota Segda in both roles eventually feels unnecessarily confusing. Discussion with M revealed how many mistakes I had made, which is a problem when the theme of split-but-connected women’s experience revolves around cases of mistaken identity (usually at the expense of Oleg Yankovskiy’s reticently bewitched suitor. Again with the timelessness: couldn’t work out how the guy from Nostalghia had aged so well).

Then cracks and bumps begin to appear. Early references to the place of Hungary at the turn of the century are swerved around by an intriguing contrast of clandestine and aristocratic peripateticisms (an anarchist ghosting across Europe meets a listlessly aristocratic traveller). A Clockwork Orange montage sequence with an unwilling dog is amusing but forgotten. What was the Trouble In Paradise-style necklace switcheroo about? Most egregiously, and ultimately most disappointingly, the flaunted themes of women’s experience, technological change and providence are revealed to be cardboard set decoration, flat and decorative rather than investigated. M objected to the apparently hesitant imbalance between the misogynistic lecturer’s breathless characterisation of women as entirely sexual beings (a funny setpiece, nevertheless) and Dora’s repetitive seductions.

But because of its glittering, almost chocolate-box beauty, and its cosy silliness, it slips by and down with a warm charm. I did enjoy it the whole way through; it was only after it finished that it became increasingly hard to love.

6

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Under The Volcano (1984)

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The start is totally mesmerising: AF staggering through the Day Of The Dead reverences at a local graveyard (whose eerie adornments reminded me of Pictures of the Old World), totally incongruous but shot patiently and poignantly by JH (his drunkenness is revealed through focus on his shoes). Firmin reaches compassionately for a whimpering dog beneath him, evoking the last line of the novel (which is a) one of the most terrifying I can remember reading and b) not mirrored in the ending here). F’s condemnation is already sealed.

Continuing through a bar showing a Peter Lorre movie. “Some things you can’t apologise for.” F’s futility is entirely a 20th-century one: alongside Hugh he is trapped by the rage in Spain and between the horrors of his military past and their unsettling echoes in the future. “People just don’t go around putting other people into furnaces” he protests, before amping the anecdote up with each telling until he has become the culprit. At the fiesta he chides Hugh for suggesting that there are new wars, rather than repetitions of the same one. Credit to the film for capably emulating ML’s refraction of this hellish continual condemnation through a preposterous, Greeneian postcolonial setup.

The preposterousness of this setup – as it is manifested in the interactions between Yvonne and Hugh and the Mexican locals – scans as pastiche initially, with a sort of Casablanca-esque lateness to every romantic reinvolvement (as well as frequent illustrations of unachievable pastoral dreams in the manner of Steinbeck). At times the secondary acting appears less knowingly hammy, clashing in particular with the patently ridiculous Oxbridge encounter.

Just as F is sucked down from the pageantry into his pit of alcoholism, so too did I find myself nearly getting the shakes whenever Finney wasn’t onscreen. Straight blustery and Burton the whole way, fearlessly outer-body in a way somehow comparable to Emannuelle Riva’s deterioration in Amour. He seems to float around in his world like a tethered balloon:

There’s nothing really holding you here any more.

Magic.

Interesting that JH’s adaptation bypasses the quite-densely flowing stream-of-consciousness lens of ML while still sticking overtly to his plot. The story works best in all cases when its projected on the inside of F’s forehead. There’s an amazing bit where, before leaving with Y for the first time, he asks how anyone, if they do not drink as he does, can appreciate the sight of an old Indian woman playing dominoes with a chicken. His eskimo rant is a wild ride, too, and he blends faultlessly into the lynchian bordello, the setpiece all dutch angles and grotesque malice.

A distinctive if slightly unsatisfying take, folded around a bonkers but titanic central performance.

7

Fanny and Alexander (1982)

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I think the first section – the Christmas celebrations – are up there with the beginning of The Deer Hunter for absorbingly sprawling, festive spectacle. It’s a world of chiming clocks, moving statues, glittering decoration. Houseplants and baroque furniture block the blood-red backgrounds; this chamber-dream is a lavish and embellished reimagining of the interiors of Cries and Whispers. We get 12 hours (from the Christmas dinner, at 4.30 every year, till preparations for breakfast at 4.50am) of engorgement, exploration of the “little world” which ailing central father Oscar labels his theatre; a Mannian miniature which can either mimetically reflect the “large” world outside or provide escape from it (“not for pleasure alone” reads the inscription on the toy stage in the opening shot). There’s a bawdy array of characters: Uncle Isaak who complains of “worse people, worse machines, worse wars… worse weather”, the wastrel Carl who lights his farts to entertain the grandkids and breaks down over his failures in the bedroom, the knowingly pessimistic grandmother Helena, mischievous maids, rapacious brothers, and wide-eyed children. Eyes Wide Shut in the sexual side-plots, the seasonal mall opulence; I was also thinking of Wes Anderson’s nostalgia (the facade of the castle is very Grand Budapest). At the centre is Alexander, who seems to produce much of the ostentation through his quiet imagination like Danny from The Shining. Before the credits he is seen with his hand pressed against a frosted window, surely a reference to the beginning of Persona. He seems to will the Hamlet plot into existence through his midnight slideshow of Arabella’s ghostly parent (he will eventually will it out of existence, too).

There’s a second section which initiates the central plot, and in which A begins to learn about death and suffering. There’s an apocalyptic ring to his father’s collapse onstage as Hamlet’s ghost, as the image of him being carried through thick snow on a wagon while friends, in costume as soldiers, push and shout recalls Isaak’s prophecy of war. A is reluctant to witness the suffering on O’s face but is completely transfixed with F by the absolutely nightmarish vision of a cracked door, O behind as if in a mausoleum, mother Emelie pacing between letting out animalistic screams (very CaW). I found this to be absolutely terrifying, a limited perspective that maintains a child’s completely alien experience of grief. A swears profusely at the funeral procession but his father continues to haunt him in peripheral apparitions.

His propensity to make stories out of his situations is thrown back at him by his mother after she marries a spiteful bishop, warning A to “stop playing Hamlet” in this most sentimental section, which takes a distinctly Dickensian turn as it introduces the Bishop as an analogue for IB’s own father. “Love cannot be commanded,” he says, hypocritically attempting to seduce F and A while instructing them to accept God as their real father. This austere middle-section feels the most personal (introducing the atmosphere and themes of Winter Light etc.) while also the most fantastical: there’s an obese aunt that we mustn’t look at like What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? and Harriet Andersson puts in another amazing turn, this time as a snitching maid who encourages A to take centre-stage with his Hamletian schemes (“I don’t want to frighten anyone…” he whispers). His mother claims she married to truly feel pain but it is A who ends up on the floor of the attic, beaten and bruised beneath a statue of Christ on the cross.

There’s basically an escape through magic and the imagination. Another terrifying moment where God threatens to show his face to A in a darkened shop full of puppets and staircases. “The unknown makes people angry” – Fellini-esque detour into fantasy, maybe even Lynchian. Eventually a retreat to the “little world”, though not without continual haunting of A, disquietingly hinting at a Knausgaardian creative impetus for IB to outrun his demons. But it’s all justified, as in the lesson of the final Strindbergian line: “On a flimsy framework of reality the imagination spins, weaving new patterns.”

If there’s one blemish I think its the fact that the almost accelerating plot-development does abandon some particularly appealing side-characters – Carl and Isaak, especially (the latter plays a central role liberating the kids from the bishop, suffering antisemitic abuse for his troubles, before being dumped altogether). This only makes me want to watch the TV cut even more.

Knocks the spots off Wild Strawberries as an exploration of personal memory; rubs shoulders with Summer With Monika on youthful, escapist imagination. I think CaW is the real precursor, though from what glimpses I’ve seen of the early comedies it seems like they’re important reference points too.

At one point Helena talks about old people being like kids, with a lost excursion in between. At the end of his career, Ingmar Bergman made another grand, personal, idiosyncratic masterpiece, situating his imagistic creativity at the heart of his difficult childhood.

9

Autumn Almanac (1984)

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Fourth time with Bela Tarr after Turin HorseWerckmeister Harmonies and Damnation.

Considered the turning point in his career, the transition from his early less well-known social realist pieces to the distinctively stylised and philosophical stuff from the late 80s onwards. Notable in that regard because of the use of colour, which in fact reveals the beauty of his chiaroscuro style; here we have queasy RGB projections, theatrical but also Gilliamian. A neon blue kitchen resembles a morgue; hellish red highlights evoke the confines of a photographic darkroom or engine room. The apartment is hermetic, purgatorial – definitely Sartre’s No Exit and perhaps Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel. Its closest relative in the BT canon is definitely D, with the submerged desperation and wordy, crushed idealism.

People trapped and desperate. A mother who insists upon “a distance,” a buffer between herself and experience – “I don’t want to see the realities”. An embittered and spiteful son who quarrels with his mother over money, agency, ownership of the house. A coquettish but reclusive woman with no personal possessions, a leech like Wyndham Lewis’ Pringle. A despondent man with violent tendencies, played by the lead in D, Miklós B. Székely. And a pathetically downtrodden, drink-sodden teacher inflicted with a sense of futility and unpayable debts. They’re a dirty crowd; there’s little attempt to build any bridges of empathy, except perhaps with the tired mother and the pragmatic violent man. It’s hard to settle in to the monologic structure, extremely candid and almost improvisational closeups, and fetid nihilistic air.

But the hypnotic rhythm of BT films does kick in (in a way that reveals the kinship AA shares with the films that followed it), though the slowness exists at a scene rather than shot level. The monologues allow each character to question existence, reveal their personalities, and enact manipulations and machinations like chess pieces. Miklós has a good line: “everyone creates peace and quiet in their own image. … But there is only one kind.” The situation has to find its own level which may bear no resemblance to the desires of individual participants. This collective but also external direction suggests the human futility of BT’s later films, which is introduced here by the epigraph from Pushkin about the devil always calling the shots.

There are some memorable images like a fight shot from below through a glass floor and boots stomping around a cluttered floor; some of the scenes also stand out too, like the drunken teacher’s protracted late-night confrontation with the son, M’s admission of aggression at the piano, and the mother’s fitful and close reconciliation with her son. A lot of the content washed over me probably because I was exhausted – didn’t even finish it in one sitting; part two in the morning felt much crisper and more significant. Would probably merit another viewing but it’s definitely bleak enough to keep me away indefinitely.

7

White Noise (1985)

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Second time with DeLillo after Underworld.

Definitely continuity with U. Flows of information, products, entertainment, waste. The “darkness” and “foreboding” of objects from previous lives, previous marriages, that fill up your house (6). 33-4 introduces the garbage compactor that becomes a kind of de-scrambler, a horrid machine that exposes the continuity of our operations, consumptions, hobbies and ablutions (“Is garbage so private? Does it glow at the core with personal heat, with signs of one’s deepest nature, clues to secret yearnings, humiliating flaws?” 259). White Noise functions quite like this, returning our lives to us repackaged and digested, sifting through our trash to drag up evidence of the stuff we’d like to forget. (also in the populations, the crowds  “assembled in the name of death” like Pafko At The Wall (73).)

But this is much funnier than U, with a stronger narrative voice that carries much more irony. I was laughing by 9’s depiction of the American Environments faculty: “all his teachers are male, wear rumpled clothes, need haircuts, cough into their armpits. Together they look like teamster officials assembled to identify the body of a mutilated colleague” (this natural imagistic creativity is elsewhere deployed to make us reexamine objects from daily life, elsewhere to restore the poignancy of the natural beauty of a sunset or sleeping children). I’ve also gotta paste part of the story about a near-miss aircraft tragedy:

Objects were rolling out of the galley, the aisles were full of drinking glasses, utensils, coats and blankets. A stewardess pinned to the bulkhead by the sharp angle of descent was trying to find the relevant passage in a handbook titled “Manual of Disasters”. Then there was a second male voice from the flight deck, this one remarkably calm and precise, making the passengers believe there was someone in charge after all, an element of hope: “This is American two-one-three to the cockpit voice recorder. Now we know what it’s like. It is worse than we’d ever imagined. They didn’t prepare us for this at the death simulator in Denver. Our fear is pure, so totally stripped of distractions and pressures as to be a form of transcendental meditation. In less than three minutes we will touch down, so to speak. They will find our bodies in some smoking field, strewn about in the grisly attitudes of death. I love you, Lance.” This time there was a brief pause before the mass wailing recommenced. Lance? What kind of people were in control of this aircraft? The crying took on a bitter and disillusioned tone. (90-1)

The real theme is the pre-internet streams of information, data. I kept thinking of Tom Noonan on his porch in Heat, telling Robert Deniro about how he got the blueprints to the bank:

McCauley: How do you get this information?
Kelso: It just comes to you. This stuff just flies through the air. They send this information out, I mean it’s just beamed out all over the fuckin place. You just gotta know how to grab it. See I know how to grab it.

See Murray on 51:

You have to learn how to look. You have to open yourself to the data. TV offers incredible amounts of psychic data. It opens ancient memories of world birth, it welcomes us into the grid, the network of little buzzing dots that make up the picture pattern … Look at the wealth of data concealed in the grid, in the bright packaging, the jingles, the slice-of-life commercials, the products hurtling out of the darkness, the coded messages and endless repetitions, like chants, like mantras. … The medium practically overflows with sacred formulas if we can remember how to respond innocently and get past our irritation, weariness and disgust. (51)

Heimlich, seemingly paranoid, later (174) phrases the concern that this world of bombardment raises: carcinogenic blasting waves, not from obvious sources but from all around us. The Airborne Toxic Event is like the “nebulous mass” that it induces in Jack: they are both just manifestations, dark and unknowable ext/internalisations of pervasive effects. Like the storm at the end of A Serious Man (see esp. 127 looming cloud, “our fear was accompanied by a sense of awe that bordered on the religious”). 104 Babette subsumed into the celestial televisual matrix is like the emergent conclusion to U (connecting, as all over the place here, with Synecdoche New York)

The data flows are beyond our control; they create structures and dynamics that pin us and extort a kind of quietistic compliance or a thirst for validation: see 46 Jack’s “waves of relief and gratitude” at the “support and approval” of an ATM that justifies his estimated finances, 76 health as beating the hospital, 118 table manners to appease a siren. Again prophetic on the internet in terms of outsourcing our most basic functions and memories to systemic storage; “knowledge changes every day” says B in justification of teaching a class about how to eat. Most Lo and Behold in H chiding J about how proximity to knowledge does not equal understanding:

If you came awake tomorrow in the Middle Ages and there was an epidemic raging, what could you do to stop it, knowing what you know about the progress of medicines and diseases? Here it is practically the twenty-first century and you’ve read hundreds of books and magazines and seen a hundred TV shows about science and medicine. Could you tell those people one little crucial thing that might save a million and a half lives? (148)

What is most unsettling is the way we actually rely on systemic uncertainty as a safety net against proper knowledge: M disputes the notion that we might prefer to have the circumstances of our deaths revealed to us; “exact dates would drive many to suicide, if only to beat the system.” (285)

At points the observation is American modernist, Paterson particularly in the domestic rhythms, habits (“blue jeans tumbled in the dryer” 18). But much of the style seems an update of Woolf, particularly The Waves in the porous family experiences:

When I could not decide between two shirts, they encouraged me to buy both. When I said I was hungry, they fed me pretzels, beer, souvlaki. The two girls scouted ahead, spotting things that they thought I might want or need, running back to get me, to clutch my arms, plead with me to follow. They were my guides to endless well-being. People swarmed through the boutiques and garment shops. Organ music rose from the great court. We smelled chocolate, popcorn, cologne; we smelled rugs and furs, hanging salamis and deathly vinyl. My family gloried in the event. I was one of them, shopping, at last. (83)

(Wilder becomes a kind of archetypal woolfian child; he is “selfish without being grasping, selfish in a totally unbounded and natural way,” dropping and grabbing, able to “appreciate special moments [and] occasions” in the way others are not (209). See above, Murray on the need to regress to a childish apprehension of culturally imbedded messages? (also 67) See 312 “I knew what red was” – moment of woolfian epiphany at the point of killing Gray, Mary’s room. [I also thought of philosophy in the Under The Net-style conversations between J and M)

Definitely a hauntological sense. “We drove through a warehouse district, more deserted streets, a bleakness and anonymity that registered in the mind as a ghostly longing for something that was far beyond retrieval.” (88) J’s observations are diachronic: “the world is full of abandoned meanings. In the commonplace I find unexpected themes and intensities.” I can’t remember where I read something like this but it definitely rings a bell: J telling M about Speer’s plan to build edifices that would decay gracefully, “the ruin is built into the creation.” (258) It is out of this observational tendency that J’s mania for disposing of trash comes from: “there was an immensity of things, an overburdening weight, a connection, a mortality.” (262)

During the Event, J sees an abandoned petrol station: “…the attendants had fled suddenly, leaving things intriguingly as they were, like the tools and pottery of some pueblo civilisation…” (127) The catastrophe is hollowing out structures, revealing the ruin inside the edifice – its like Vesuvius, or the x-ray machine in The Magic Mountain which reveals the hollow world inside Hans Castorp through unsettlingly modern technology – see 141 the computer revealing the “nebulous mass” inside J:

I think I felt as I would if a doctor had held an X-ray to the light showing a star-shaped hole at the centre of one of my vital organs. … It is when death is rendered graphically, is televised so to speak, that you sense an eerie separation between your condition and yourself. A network of symbols has been introduced, an entire awesome technology wrested from the gods. It makes you feel like a stranger in your own dying. (141-2)

Two points here: firstly this image helps cast the empiricism as observation of some natural catastrophe (“Stark upheavals bring out every sort of quaint aberration by the very suddenness of their coming. Dashes of colour and idiosyncrasy marked the scene…” 138), which WN seems itself to be acting as. Secondly this intrusion of a symbolic framework is the opposite effect to that produced by Dylar, which undoes the signification relationship of signifiance, erasing the distinction between word and thing (193).

All sorts of stuff about simulations, simulacra. Thought of McCarthy’s Remainder. “Are you saying you saw a chance to use the real event in order to rehearse the simulation?” (139) I particularly loved the image of the old couple lost in the mall (59); the supermarket as a sort of mausoleum, a portal to the next life, a point at which we can access the matrix which builds death into the system.

This is also more wholesome than U. Part of the success of the ironic voice can be attributed to the relatable poignancy of the family, a beautiful incubator: “Heat, noise, looks, words, gestures, personalities, appliances. A colloquial density that makes family life the one medium of sense knowledge in which an astonishment of heart is routinely contained.” (117)

Some of the interjections of “manual” voice seem a little outdated, post-Palahniuk schoolboy disaffection. But it all hangs together as an amusing and vivid historical cross-section. A polythene tapestry

This is a mess because I made too many notes:

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8

Landscape In The Mist (1988)

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First time with Theo Angelopoulos.

The film starts twice. We see the children approach a train station at night, enter it, walk to the platform and hesitate before a departure for Germany. At the last moment they decide to board but the train leaves and they are left standing immediately in front of it, staring point-blank as faces and arms slide by above them. They stand still, facing away from us; the train leaves and they are left staring into the darkness.

After a few establishing sequences (involving the ominously unseen presence of a voiceless mother; a wave goodbye to a ragged and deluded man in a compound) they repeat the visit – this time they board in time; there is an emancipatory rush. They are given another opportunity to accede to the stream of life that they have watched pass by “every day”. LitM dramatises their fall from innocence, the near-extinguishing of their childish hope amid the empty landscapes and haunted, hostile figures of a country that seems inescapably and permanently post-war.

TA initially foregrounds the religious overtones of their attempt to find their father somewhere in the north. Voula imagines writing to their father that their mother, who has repeatedly interrupted the story of Genesis that young V tells to younger Alex, “doesn’t understand you”. The mental letter describes a hopeful pilgrimage, until she says that they will only stay with him temporarily so as not to inconvenience him – they just want to know. While this evokes Christian humility it also reasserts the reality of the journey. The factory to which they are ushered by a policeman after this first abortive trip looms high above them like a cathedral, but inside their bitter uncle disowns both the siblings and their pretences: “There is no father. There is no Germany.” V has been eavesdropping; she storms out in tears. LitM dances with these intrusions of reality into the symbolic.

There are a series of scenes that isolate the children from the world. They wait at a police station with a traumatised widow; the officers run outside into the snow like children only to have frozen like statues when the children join them. In a lamplit street a bride storms out of a wedding; a car drags a dying horse through the snow as the reanimated festivities parade behind the children — they sniffle and weep at the confrontation with death.

Their innocence and excursions suggest La Strada, an environment that becomes focused around a Fool and a Zampano: a generous, youthful amateur dramatist (who leads a troop like a desolate depression-era analogue of the one in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern) and a greased, glowering truck driver whose demeanour hums quietly with menace. They swing LitM in the direction of fairy tales (consecutive encounters; Gorey caution) – “I don’t eat children!” jokes the former, but the latter winds towards a central, traumatic action that crushes V’s innocence like the horrors threatened beyond the pale of Pia Marais’ The Unpolished. This is seriously destabilising to watch, to the extent that it partly occluded a few of the later developments (in general V’s interactions with subsequent male authority, but particularly her developing attraction toward the young dramatist – which is ultimately so touching as to dispel the fog).

LitM is strung together with mesmeric scenes: the framed movement in the first abandonment at a strange platform; (particularly) long-shot young A wandering in front of a marching military band while a Greek flag is hoisted before slumped apartments and distant mountains; the sequences on the beaches (again Fellini), especially the dance by the wagon (again); the gift of a seemingly blank snippet of film reel; heavy construction plant as a churning leviathan before the tiny children. Fellini again in the later climax: the giant stone hand hauled out of the sea by a helicopter and towed away across the sky. This and the leviathan peak on the symbolic plane through their adoption of a childish perspective. The silent rape of V’s innocence and A’s maturing demeanour tilt LitM towards its Grave of the Fireflies trajectory.

TA’s world is cold and empty, a stagnant post-industrial waste that opens out like the outskirts of La Notte but hugs the horizon with a grimmer poverty. The pageant of bereft and capricious figures paints a picture of a country uprooted and gone to seed. Was most struck with the distinctive style, which operates in the Tarkovsky/Antonioni/Ceylan mode of pensively choreographed silence, but which also bleeds with a more accessibly sentimental tone (I liked this from wiki about Eleni Karaindrou’s stirringly mournful score: “Karaindrou stated the impetuous children strongly reminded her of the romantic escapes from earlier times, which is why she wanted the soundtrack to contain traces of Mendelssohn and Franck. When it came to the selection of the fitting instrument, she chose the oboe, because it is romantic and screams at the same time.”) Feels analogous to Bicycle Thieves‘ blend of melodrama and neo-realism – perhaps too sentimental, at times.

Cold and empty, though the ending was unquestionable. I went out into the warm street and felt so sad.

8

Come and See (1985)

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I have been trying to get my hands on a copy of this for years. I expected it to be incredible and it was. The film that I imagined it to be is indeed in it, as part of a section that goes beyond what I’d imagined and fully off the deep end. That section roughly forms the final third of the film – excepting a coda whose success I would not have thought possible either after what precedes it or on its own terms. The first half of this film, and the section preceding the one described, is a different beast. Altogether as a film, it seems foolish to write about Come and See, but I can at least say confidently that it deserves recognition alongside those whose work it brings to mind: Remarque, Tarkovsky, Solzhenitsyn, Hemingway, Coppola, Dostoyevsky, even Levi and Lanzmann.

The recurring, defining image is Florya’s aghast face, directly at the camera. His role in CaS is like the camera’s in that it fluctuates between embodying our viewpoint, (we are constantly involved, as in the reccie sprint to the treeline) reflecting that viewpoint back to us, or constituting the object of the audience’s gaze. At these moments however he embodies the Revelations quotation that inspired the title:

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. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.

Belarus in 1943 is a point at which expressionist religious imagery and realistic mimesis convene; it is the hell we have been told we can only imagine, cast onto the real landscape and into the towns and villages.

(The non-sequential summaries I have read seem reductive; the sequencing and development of CaS deserve parallel description, so I will go through it chronologically here)

Opening with a man telling boys not to dig. Beckettian waiting, searching for the treasure of a gun which will enable them to go and fight. After their success the credits roll over the sound of a plane drone, (instrumental? a leitmotif that evokes Hemingway’s Spanish War on planes’ perspective and terrorist factor) marshal drumming and a brass march. Throughout CaS recognisable classical music is interwoven and layered with Oleg Yanchenko’s own score and often dense field recordings; chaos that occasionally gives way to recognition or clarity.

The mother’s direct appeal to the camera. Lav Diaz. F only with a brainless smirk which will slowly depart, as the game which he makes out of his mother’s grief to entertain his twin sisters becomes real life. Other characters stare into us (the general with a hardened gaze, the german commander like Achebe’s ‘Vultures’ with his bushbaby) but none are so striking, besides F, as Glasha. Piercing blue eyes. Her games with F: masculine / feminine conflict, (a soul) a glimpse through machismo. (The amazing line: “you’re not living. You don’t hear the birds singing”) After twining with and being wrenched away from F she will be left behind with the starving mothers; she makes a harrowing visual reappearance as a victim and a symbol of the violent rape of the nation. Nazi on the importance of eradicating children to prevent the continuation of races that do not have “the right to exist;” genocide as a crime aiming to destroy all its witnesses – the importance of come and see.

I understood that this would be a very brutal film and that it was unlikely that people would be able to watch it. I told this to my screenplay coauthor, the writer Ales Adamovich. But he replied: “Let them not watch it, then. This is something we must leave after us. As evidence of war, and as a plea for peace.”

The sparing use of weapons in the first half is confined mainly to the exploding trees. The destruction seems to be coming up out of the Earth; nature vomiting violence, inhumanity crawling out of a hole and spreading across the continent like the soldiers who then stalk across the clearing.

The expressionistic detail kicks in here as the violence induces distortion: the watchful stork; the frenetic dance atop the wet wooden box with imagined ragtime. Nod to Ivan’s Childhood as F looks down the well near his home.

At and after which the culmination of the first half: the true horror; the truly nightmarish device of G seeing the bodies of the family F is looking for – sprinting both to and away, split denial; bird recordings swelling into an oppressive hail. At the camp a choral score and folk chanting and disembodied ghostly voices and drones as the visions explode – the uncle again, burnt alive: “didn’t I tell you not to dig?” It would be better to die with the family than go on seeing; later punishment of being posed for a Nazi photo (mirroring the patriotic, powerfully earthen Red Army one at the beginning) with a gun to his temple that isn’t fired. “It’s all my fault” c/ the blameless beginning. Halfway with a full moon – nadir. This first part is like a cross between Mirror and Aguirre, the psychological nightmare of war.

Realism in the second half after partial recovery. The Nazis become banal, evil but apprehensible: they drop empty bottles and leaflets “Kill the bolshevik kikes! Smash a brick in their ugly mugs!” (“Is that all?”)

The Kurosawa mist after the cow’s death (see Andrei Rublev). Out of this born into the main sequence, drawn from the germ of the film: the destruction and massacre of Belarusian villages (over 600).

The development leading from the raid of the village, through the herding of the villagers, their captivity, F’s escape, the fire – inevitable slide, horrifying pacing and accretion. I can only compare with the painting that I anticipated from the beginning of the fatal rounding up. After the modernist horror of the first section we are still firmly in the realist mode, (“maintain order and discipline!”) and now we are looking not at the war itself (behind which the Germans had appeared so comically banal) but at the enemy, who embody inhumanity. (this is interesting analysis wrt/ Ivan’s Childhood, but doesn’t stress enough the more “subjective” experience of CaS‘s first half, which is more Tarkovskian – thereby, I think, dramatising the kind of stylistic shift that the essay tracks from Khrushchev-to-Glasnost era change. Think it also inaccurately stresses the second half’s “sense of not-quite-participant, of being present and yet disconnected” – see the bullets almost hitting the camera in the cow scene.) This is War and it is war: while acknowledging the eurocentrism this is the absolute trough of modern human experience, the horrifying pinnacle that we can barely look in the face. In the heat of the flames – both onscreen and of the film itself – there are moments like forged carbon motes which defy explanation: the applause; the bushbaby; a beautiful female officer eating lobster in a van’s front seat; a senile Russian grandmother gazing wistfully into the distance in front of the furnace.

A reckoning, which is determined but does not emulate. Then the film begins to break down: filtered historical shots. The Village Voice: “The bit of actual death-camp corpse footage that Klimov uses is doubly disturbing in that it retrospectively diminishes the care with which he orchestrates the town’s destruction.” I agree except for “diminishes” – it strengthens the imperative to represent by exposing it. It is truly horrifying.

The coda is of a piece with this moment, but I will not describe it here, except to say that it is seared with rage and absurdity, a scream back down history towards the glow reflected in the eyes of The Cabinet and in the portrait of a blank infant boy on his mother’s knees.

Total film – all stops are pulled out. Everything is given time to settle in; there is no conciliatory suggestion or editing. This could not be made again or in another country. I am amazed that it really exists at all. Mentioned some artists that I would compare this to but it really is total.

Klimov did not make any more films after Come and See, leading some critics to speculate as to why. In 2001, Klimov said, “I lost interest in making films … Everything that was possible I felt I had already done.”

I think this is probably the greatest film ever made about war, (without including Shoah in that definition) and one of the greatest films ever made.

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