Review: The Death of Stalin (2017)


The Death of Stalin (2017)

Directed by: Armando Iannucci | 106 minutes | comedy | Actors: Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Rupert Friend, Jason Isaacs, Jeffrey Tambor, Andrea Riseborough, Olga Kurylenko, Paddy Considine, Tom Brooke, Justin Edwards, Michael Palin, Paul Ready, Elaine Claxton, Sylvestra Le Touzel, June Watson

Contrary to his name, Armando Iannucci is not from Italy but from Glasgow. His father is Italian and his mother Scottish with Italian roots, but Armando is unmistakably British. Certainly his sense of humor. The writer and director has made political satire his trademark and has scored major successes with his comedy series ‘The Thick of It’ (2005, about the ups and downs of the British Parliament) and ‘Veep’ (2012, about the struggles of the US Vice President Selina Meyer played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus). A spin-off of ‘The Thick of It’ was also released in the form of the film ‘In the Loop’ (2009), in which American and British politics are heavily ridiculed. For the script, Iannucci worked with a permanent team of co-writers, each of whom makes their own contribution to the final product. For example, Ian Martin is known as the ‘swearing consultant’; he enlivens the scenario with the necessary colorful language and adds the necessary strong curses. Iannucci collects all individual contributions and turns them into a well-running script. That he has quite mastered this is evident from the fact that the screenplay of ‘In the Loop’ was nominated for an Oscar.

Iannucci wrote the script for ‘The Death of Stalin’ (2017) with a number of those ‘permanent collaborators’ (2017), following a stay in Moscow where he was amazed at the ‘hero status’ that the former Soviet dictator still has in Moscow. Russia. “Hitler is poison. You will not soon see a portrait of him hanging in a hotel in Germany. But in our hotel in Moscow there was a portrait of Stalin. He basically got away with his crimes. We quietly put a cloth over him and didn’t really concern ourselves with him,” Iannucci told Rolling Stone Magazine. The fact that Stalin’s status is still not allowed to be changed in Russia is shown by the fact that several dignitaries have pushed for a ban on the film, because it could be part of ‘a Western plot to destabilize Russia and disintegrate society. can tear’. People from the Russian film world also turned against ‘The Death of Stalin’, with the result that the film was banned a few days before the premiere was due to take place. Comments also came from other quarters; some historians have pointed out that Iannucci’s film makes a mockery of reality here and there and that the terror of Stalinism is nothing to joke about.

So there is a lot to do around ‘The Death of Stalin’, but is it a good movie? If you take a look at the impressive cast, you can only conclude that expectations are high. The tone is immediately set in the first scenes: Radio Moscow has organized a piano concert with a live audience. When the concert is almost over, producer Andreyev (Paddy Considine) is called by none other than Stalin himself (Adrian McLoughlin). He enjoyed the performance so much that he wants the recordings. Panic in the tent, because the performance was not recorded and saying no to Stalin is not an option. Andreyev comes up with the bright idea to have the concert performed again. Even if that means replacing the audience who have already left with plebs from the streets, quickly flying in another conductor and bribing the snobbish pianist (Olga Kurylenko). Comedy capers everywhere! The pianist is also a great opponent of Stalin and sends a note with the recording. The dictator has just dined and drank lavishly with the Central Committee of the Communist Party, a bunch of rough-and-tumble and megalomaniac guys. Stalin’s rule is one of the iron hand and even his closest comrades no longer know who is alive and who is dead. They all know that they can be promoted one day and deported the next, or worse, arrested, imprisoned in a gulag or liquidated.

The gentlemen are not aware that the dictator will have a brain haemorrhage that same evening. The good doctors have all been removed from office, so there’s no saving it. Even before the death has been officially determined, the battle for who will succeed Stalin has erupted in all fierceness. Only his daughter Svetlana (Andrea Riseborough) and hot-headed son Vasili (Rupert Friend) seem genuinely concerned for the deceased. Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi) presents himself as a reformer and seems a reasonable person who is disgusted by Stalin’s excesses, but he too can be ruthless. Michael Palin is Molotov, who is so loyal to the party that he would lap everyone – even his own wife – if he had to. At first, Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor) is put forward as a successor, but he walks around with his soul under his arm more and more. Jason Isaacs is the blunt army marshal Zhukov who blurts everything out right away. By far the most dangerous figure in Stalin’s entourage is Beria (Simon Russell Beale), head of the secret police. Calculating and cunning as a fox, he is known for his sneaky pushiness; he puts Malenkov forward as a straw man to work out his nefarious plans in his shadow. But will he just get away with it…?

Iannucci deliberately chose to have his characters speak ‘normal’ English. In this way, the actors do not have to worry about whether their accents are correct and it does not distract the viewer, he believes. That is not entirely true, because it is quite strange to hear flat English and even American spoken in that typically Russian setting. However, in a comedy, this is less distracting than in a drama, so Iannucci gets away with it. Certainly at the funniest moments in the film, such as the opening scene in the concert hall, that Britishness just fits well into the whole. As hilarious as in that scene, the film is unfortunately not constant, but you can certainly laugh out loud at times. ‘The Death of Stalin’ is especially strong as a satire, although it could have been a bit sharper here and there. The dialogues full of colorful expletives will certainly please the lover of British humor. However horrific the events under Stalin’s regime may have been, Iannucci says you can laugh about it. While there are notable parallels to the present, which may frighten some people, the only way to deal with it is with humor. With ‘The Death of Stalin’ the Italian Scot is in top form. Just like the entire cast, by the way. Iannucci knows better than anyone how to combat political fear and paranoia with comedy and he masters the uneasy balance between hilarity and horror to perfection.

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