The Death of Stalin May be Banned in Russia but it’s Playin’ in Frisco
It’s not every day you see a comedy about one of the worst mass murderers in human history. The film made international headlines after the Russian government banned it, (which of course is a godsend to a film’s promotional team), once it came out that the film was banned, interest to see it in Russia and around the world doubled. The Russian Culture Ministry called the film ‘propoganda’ and wrote in a statement following its removal from theaters, “The Death of Stalin is meant to create hatred and animosity, debase the dignity of the Russian (Soviet) person.”
It’s incredibly fitting that a repressive government ban a movie that is about repressive government. Stalin is clearly a nightmare from the past, but current Russian President Putin is no lightweight, after all, he’s a former KGB agent who imprisons his political enemies and kills people he doesn’t like with radiation poisoning like some kind of Bond villain. Getting on Putin’s ‘bad list’ was very much on my mind while attending the special screening of The Death of Stalin at Alamo Draft House in San Francisco last night.
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I walked up to the film’s director, Armando Iannucci before the screening, and asked him if he was being followed by the KGB, and if so, he should blink twice if it wasn’t safe to talk. Iannucci, just smiled and said, ‘no’, and explained he wasn’t worried about the Russians. I reminded him that he was probably in some Kremlin black book somewhere, and Iannucci took a drink and responded in his Scottish brogue, “I’m not too worried about it, I think they have bigger fish to fry.”
The film The Death of Stalin isn’t about Stalin directly, but rather about his cabinet of criminals and incompetents who squabble over the reigns of power following his death. It’s directed by dark comedy iconoclast Armando Iannucci who is responsible for the HBO political satire VEEP and its BBC predecessor The Thick of It. Iannucci does backroom political satire with incredibly well-written jokes, using a stable of British writers like Ian Martin, who have turned insults and swearing into a kind of art form.
In The Death of Stalin Steve Buscemi plays Nikita Khrushchev, Jeffrey Tambor plays Stalin’s successor Georgy Malenkov, and Monty Python’s Michael Palin plays another figure in Stalin’s cabinet of cutthroats. In other words, the film is lead by comedians through a seriously dark time, it walks a tightrope between making the viewer laugh while reminding this viewer how lucky he is to be living without the fear of government death squads and gulags. The film is careful not to make fun of human tragedy directly, but rather poke fun at its political figures and to show people that these politicians are just people struggling to hold it all together, a bit like everyone else, just you know, sociopathic. The film makes for a strange and satirical ride through a depressing period of history and if you’re a fan of political recreations or British humor, it’s not to be missed.
THE DEATH OF STALIN
Out in San Francisco: March 16, 2018
Directed by: Armando Iannucci
Starring: Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Jeffrey Tambor, Michael Palin, Paul Whitehouse, Jason Isaacs, Andrea Riseborough, Rupert Friend, Paddy Considine, Olga Kurylenko and Adrian Mcloughlin
Synopsis: The internal political landscape of 1950’s Soviet Russia takes on darkly comic form in a new film by Emmy award-winning and Oscar-nominated writer/director Armando Iannucci.
In the days following Stalin’s collapse, his core team of ministers tussle for control; some want positive change in the Soviet Union, others have more sinister motives. Their one common trait? They’re all just desperately trying to remain alive.