The plot is straight out of the grayish, state-approved, thesis-tidy Ballad of a Soldier bin, but the landscapes and visions are Andrei Tarkovskyís and nobody elseís. Ivan (Kolya Burlyayev) gazes through a spiderís web in the forest, the craning camera watches from a distance before literally sweeping the 12-year-old off his feet; by the end of the opening credits, the liquid realms of dreams and battlefields -- of childhood cuckoos and barbed-wire swamps -- are laid out and leaking into each other. The protagonist is a tough kid, a sharp-faced and angry-eyed orphan, a tiny partisan scouting the Russian front during World War II with vengeful thoughts. A young lieutenant (Yevgeni Zharikov) receives him skeptically, then gets distracted by a vague romantic triangle between himself, a brash captain (Valentin Zubkov) and the new medical assistant (Valentina Malyavina). "Warís no place for girls... Warís no place for children," the men say, as if they could impose order on chaos. A tactile physical world swarming with symbols: Ivan framed by the jagged remains of a bombed-out cabin is a Franz Kline canvas, the captain kissing the medic while holding her on top of a trench is a moment of connection above the void. The boy tries to grab a celestial reflection at the bottom of a well while his mother is killed up above, the smitten medicís handheld POV swoon through the white forest is promptly undercut by machine-gun fire (throttled corpses welcome the next shot). Deep-focus turns the arched ceilings and scrawled walls of cramped hideouts into mini-cathedrals, rear-projection abstracts the innocence of the ride in the apple truck, shot in negative film-stock (Nosferatu). DŁrer prints are spoils of war, a premonition of Andrei Rublevís bell briefly fills the screen. The lieutenant wanders dazedly in the aftermath: "You were killed and I survived. I must think about this." The final memory-fantasy is just the kind of thing that excited the jealousy of Bergman, Klimovís Come and See undertakes a thoroughgoing analysis. Cinematography by Vadim Yusov. With Stepan Krylov, Nikolai Grinko, Dmitri Milyutenko, and Irma Raush. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce