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Sundance 2017 Review: “The Death of Stalin” (2017) ★★★★


For the people of the Soviet Union, Stalin was like a fatherly figure. He was also a demon and tyrant at the same time. The people were never given a choice to decide whether they loved or hated him. His reign will always be associated with millions of people exiled, families destroyed and swiped into oblivion, only for a sole reason that he did not want anyone to survive to come after him. The events depicted in the film “The Death of Stalin” were never funny in the real life. Still, it was quite funny to watch a film that tells about all the complications caused by one death that was significant enough to change the course of the entire Union’s history.

The film starts with a concert. The director of the theatre has an agreement that the concert should not be recorded. But, as soon as the concert ends and the musicians are about to leave, Stalin calls asking for the recording of the concert. Terrified, that this might cause his execution, the director of the theatre orders the musicians to stay and play the whole concert one more time to record it. He has to replace the conductor and pay a big sum to the pianist – Maria so that she agrees to play her part one more time. Once the vinyl record is ready to be sent to Stalin, Maria decides to leave a note for him. At first, it makes him laugh. But only for one second. The next minute, we see him collapse and die. On the next day, we see the turmoil and crisis that his death has caused to his closest allies. Confused, they are forced to make one ridiculous move after another, and quickly, all of this grows into a huge hysteria.

Although “The Death of Stalin” is based on a graphic novel, it is still pretty accurate from the historical point of view. Those, who know enough about that time, will be able to understand and even predict the ending of the film. The best part is that the funniest scenes are around such serious historical figures as  Stalin, Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi), Georgy Zhukov (Jason Isaacs), Vasily Stalin (Rupert Friend), Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor), Lavrenty Beria (Simon Russell Beale), Vyacheslav Molotov (Michael Palin), Svetlana Stalin (Andrea Riseborough) and MariaYudina (Olga Kurylenko). Each of them has some memorable lines to deliver. The lever of accuracy in the film is actually very refreshing. I must admit, it was a pleasant surprise.

The scenes of how the men are dealing with Stalin’s body while he is still alive are priceless. Also, the scene where they attempt to find any doctor because the good ones have been killed or exiled by Stalin. I’d say, those scenes are an absolute must-see. And when it comes to the funeral scene, I am sure it deserves its special places in the history of cinema, when Beria invites a Bishop, called by Khruschev as Jesus Christ’s friends.

Co-written and directed by Armando Iannucci, “The Death of Stalin” is one of the funniest movies made in the history of modern cinema. It touches a political concept through comedy genre so well, that watching it only a few times won’t be enough. The ridiculousness of the whole situation is inviting enough to have the viewer want to watch it all over again.

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