There’s no shelter in Come and See: Elim Klimov’s Soviet WWII anti-epic (at Walter Reade) is oppressed by sod-hugging fog, suctioning mud, and dirt flung skyward by mines or bombs. The Nazis invading Russia are unmistakably its villains, but the root of all evil is something more elemental.
Klimov is on the offensive, too, discomfiting close-ups fixing his warscape on the contorted face of his teenage protagonist. The boy, Florya, separated from first his family and then the militia he left them to join, drifts dumbstruck through visceral, nearly hallucinatory episodes. (At one point, a refugee band builds an effigy of Hitler from mud, a corpse’s jacket, and hair clipped from Florya’s scalp; everyone takes turns spitting on it.)
In Come and See‘s soul-scraping climax, taking up much of the film’s second half, Nazis pack an entire village into one barn, then order the adults to come out and the children to stay. Few escape—it’s too cramped to move—before the Nazis open up their flamethrowers, pulling out women (to violate) and men (to torture). The sequence is staged in long takes so audaciously well-choreographed as to be themselves a confrontation.
It’s possibly the most horrific vision of war ever filmed, and the inhumanity is deepened by Klimov’s refusal to step outside atrocity. Nor would he ever make another film: he let out a prolonged, anguished death rattle, and left it for others to consider the possibility of an afterlife.
Millions of miles away (at Anthology, in fact) is Jacques Feyder’s classical French comedy Carnival in Flanders. Made in 1935, it has the touch of period European class (visual cues from Brueghel) that Hollywood was then appropriating to better gild its self-importance. But Feyder lightly deflates the frilly ostentation of his 17th century setting, and phrases farce with feminist emphasis. Dreading a visit by the occupying Spanish nobility, a Flemish town’s leaders go into hiding, leaving their wives to host the (it happens) charming, generous Spaniards. While the Burgomaster plays dead in his own house, suppressing a sneeze when a memorial wreath tickles his nose, his long- marginalized wife allows herself to be romanced by the visiting Duke, and with his help arranges her daughter’s self-made love match. (She had previously been promised to one of dad’s colleagues in exchange for cattle.) Throughout, Feyder’s blithe parade of cravenness and idiosyncrasy is delightful—even if a movie skewering xenophobic paranoia was, in retrospect, the last thing France needed in the 30’s. (Vichy was no Flanders.)