06/04/2016 19:56 BST | Updated 07/04/2017 06:12 BST

From the Vault: Come and See and Woman In the Dunes

From the Vault is a series focusing on classic films.


Elem Klimov / Alexei Kravchenko, Olga Mironova / War / 1985 / 18 / 142 mins

Most boys are raised on action, blood and guts.

In Western society it's certainly the norm to pick up a GTA or CoD at 12 and slaughter innocents, but everyone knows it's fictional, right? Nothing like this happens in real life, does it?

You see, every boy throughout history listens, reads, and enacts stories of MEN and their MANLY ACHIEVEMENTS. When a war breaks out, you want to join. And then it happens for real... suddenly, you're traumatised for life.

There's the promise of glory fighting alongside other MEN in the Eastern European battlefields for young Flyora. He abandons his family and he abandons his mundane life in a farming village only to confront the atrocities of war.

Rightly praised as the 'Russian Apocalypse Now', Come and See drives a stake into the heart of war movies. Elem Klimov is the hammer, watching us reeling at our own vampiristic craving for blood'n'guts, reeling ultimately from ourselves. Witnessing the harrowing descent of Flyora and the PTSD troops of yesteryear rewires a disturbing collective perception: that action = FUN.

What is most striking is Klimov's insistent portraiture of his actors. This personal camerawork is unique and interrogates each successive character. It's positively Marxist, a confrontationalist sketch that is surprisingly moving. Even the captured landscape informs the Innaritu's The Revenant or the works of Terence Malick, thrusting nature aggressively onto the screen.

Why Come and See isn't acknowledged more by the common Western man is beyond me. It's perhaps the most educational historical essay of the Second World War that I have seen. Only Saving Private Ryan had as big an immediate effect upon me.

I'm not joking when I say this is arguably my favourite war movie of all time. Apocalypse Now has a challenger to the throne.



Hiroshi Teshigahara / Eiji Okada, Kyoko Kishida / Drama-Thriller / 1964 / 15 / 123 mins

Let's be frank, Japan produces a lot of weird shit.

If you were to take their GDP, odds on the top 3 contributing sectors would be fetish porn, seizure-inducing cartoons and a disturbingly intense passion for whaling.

The Japanese do weird good. Weird films included. Decades pass and the good are sifted from the bad, leaving us to indulge in masterpieces like Teshigahara's adaptation of the novel Woman in the Dunes.

Woman in the Dunes draws on the fears of the everyman, the sociological constraints of modern life that we unwittingly drift into, ebbing out to an unknown sea. A widowed woman, stranded in a hole in the sand, acts as the focal point for our character, Niki. He is trapped, deceived by local villagers, and forced to live a life he never foresaw.

From the outset, it's a Freudian field trip - but wait, there's more! The film grapples with commonplace existential crises through a kidnap to notable effect. Niki believes, over time, society will rescue him, but they never do. He believes he has a purpose, but clearly he doesn't and must come terms with his newfound reality alone.

Obvious metaphors aside, the audience is forced to ponder time: the passing of it and how it affects a man. The sand itself is excessively used as a visual cue; interludes are scattered throughout, sand sticks to the character's bodies, invades their home; this imagery emphasises, ultimately, the sands of time and the fears it brings of an end.

As a film, Teshigahara maintains tension. Techniques vary, but shaky-cam is prominent. Usually left for thrillers, shaky-cam never focuses on a subject properly and heightens the drama on screen. Repetitive close-ups are utilised to similar effect.

The score was irritating. It can be seen as an ulterior facsimile of Niki's frustration, another art form conveying his hysteria, but sometimes it just came out of nowhere, detracting too much from the film itself.

It's not for everyone. It's creepy, lingering and prolonged, a torturous watch - a proper artsy film. An artsy film that is, however, a masterpiece of life and fear.


Harry also writes for The HEC Review