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Tournament of Sadness: Round 2

This is the second in a series of posts I will be writing to determine the most depressing movie we have in the library’s film collection. I will be watching 16 devastating movies in the coming months — feel free to join in the “fun” and share your feedback!

Illustration courtesy of Dan Wyke:


Round 2: Sadness Abroad

Come and See (1985)

come and see

This 1985 film from Russia is one of the most devastating films ever about anything, and in it, the survivors must envy the dead.” – Roger Ebert

Things you will encounter in this film: mud, limbs, the horrors of war.

This is easily the most devastating and unique war movie I’ve ever seen. It completely peels away the glamour and excitement of war, as there are no heroics or arguments for nationalistic pride on offer here.

The story takes the point of view of a young man, Florya, who is eager to join the Soviet resistance movement and fight back against German forces, even though he is barely thirteen. He has childlike ambitions of becoming a war hero and is enamored of his fellow, elder troops. His optimism is soon squashed when he’s left behind at base camp with a young girl; she is around his age and named Glasha, and appears far more world-weary than Florya. From here on all intimations of heroism are thrown out the window, as Florya and Glasha can only do everything in their power to (barely) stay alive, including turning themselves over to the German army at one point.

There are huge portions of this film where we can’t hear anything but a high-pitched ringing sound, muffled dialogue and occasional music or nature sounds; this is because early in the film Florya loses almost all of his hearing in a bombing, so we hear what Florya hears for the remainder of the movie. This makes for a nightmarish and hallucinatory viewing experience. It is one of the most unique sound experiences I’ve had while watching a movie, and occasionally I had to hit the mute button because the sound of the film (mixed with some truly horrific images) was making me nauseous. The film ends with actual footage from WWII, and the postscript that “during the war 628 Belarus villages were burnt to the ground along with all of their inhabitants.” This is some powerful stuff, but not a movie I’d recommend for the faint of heart. (For more background on this film and the Soviet Republic’s role in WWII, you can read this article here.)

Score on a scale of 1 – 5, with 5 being the most depressing.

Hopelessness: 4.5

Existential Dread: 4

Despair: 4 (plus .5 tears for a terrifying auditory experience)

Total: 4.33 tears Tearse_3


Lilya 4-Ever (2002)


“…a vivisectional experiment in horror and despair.” – Peter Bradshaw

Things you’ll encounter in this movie: human trafficking, glue-sniffing, soviet architecture, horrible parenting.

This is easily one of the most depressing double features one could possibly watch, as both focus on young, innocent characters slowly being destroyed by forces beyond their control. Both are about violence, powerlessness, and the will to survive. Neither ends on an upbeat or redemptive note.

The film opens with a hopeful and spirited Lilya believing that she will soon be traveling to America. Her mother’s new boyfriend is making plans to move them to America, and Lilya assumes she will be tagging along. Only the boyfriend has other plans. Lilya is essentially abandoned by her mother in a completely devastating scene, and it is here that her fate is sealed.

Lilya has no family (save for an uncaring and indifferent aunt), no money, and no job skills, so it’s not surprising that she might turn to prostitution. While a troubled girl, she is essentially sweet and good-hearted, which makes watching her slow descent into destruction all the more harrowing.

She takes in an equally neglected young boy and their scenes together offer the only moments of warmth or hope in an otherwise very bleak film. Eventually Lilya meets Andrei who becomes her boyfriend, and initially he seems kind and worried about Lilya’s well-being, and even goes so far as to offer Lilya a job in Sweden. Only, when she arrives in Sweden the job is not as advertised.

Unfortunately, this sort of story is more common than we’d like to think, and Lilya 4-Ever puts a human face on a very real social ill affecting millions of men, women, and children. This is an utterly heart-breaking and beautiful film, and one I won’t soon forget.

Score on a scale of 1 – 5, with 5 being the most depressing.

Hopelessness: 4.5

Existential Dread: 4

Despair: 5

Total:  4.5 tears Tearse_4

If you’re looking to watch something challenging, unique and stunning, I recommend giving either of these films a try — but you may want to do as I did and watch something light afterward (I suggest Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping).

Happy viewing,


Request a copy of Lilya-4ever through our InterLibrary Loan Service.


Tara is a Librarian in the Music, Film & Audio Department, and loves to make film & book recommendations. Some of her interests include gardening, cookbooks, foreign films, comedy albums and devastating literary fiction.

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