It opened in the US two weeks ago (and last fall in its native UK) after apparently being banned in Russia. Now Armando Iannucci’s new satirical comedy, The Death of Stalin, based upon the French graphic novel by Thierry Robin and Fabien Nury is getting a bit of a wider release in US and Canada.
We plunge into days of turmoil provoked by the sudden death, in 1953, of USSR supreme ruler, Joseph Stalin. Stalin’s committee tries to figure out how to run the country while discussing funeral arrangements.
When an ensemble cast features, among others, Steve Buscemi as Kruschev and Ex Monthy Python Michael Palin as the infamous Vyacheslav Molotov, you know you are in for a gigantic farce. The most interesting aspect of The Death of Stalin is that the main outline is based on factual anecdotes illustrating the paranoia projected by Stalin, a fact illustrated (but in dramatic fashion) by Andrey Konchalovkiy in The Inner Circle (1991).
We’re at the height of numerous purges, including the strong reaction to so called ‘doctor’s plot’. The crazy bunch, led by Kruschev/ Buscemi has a hard time finding a capable doctor to certify the death, since they all have either been banished or eliminated. This part of Iannucci’s film feels like a silly take on Aleksey German brilliant and masterful Khrustalyov, My Car! (1998). Vasily Stalin (played by Rupert Friend), the leader’s son who’s under intensive stress to find replacement players for his hockey team, is based on a true story. In 1950, his Air force hockey team, forerunner of the celebrated Red Army Team, fell victim of a plane crash and Vasily concealed the news out of fear.
The Death of Stalin is not totally successful, not always as funny or ferocious as it could have been, although we get our dose of black humor, mainly because it relies a bit too much on easy going and common vulgarity and it is extremely basic cinematically, betraying the television background of its director .
Also, It is significant to note that the choice of English spoken with no added fake Russian accents was saluted by Russian journalists (who saw it in festivals) as the proper choice.