Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Death of Stalin

From The Economist:

THE men guarding Josef Stalin at his dacha in the suburbs of Moscow were under strict instructions not to disturb him under any circumstances. The Soviet dictator would often watch Westerns into the small hours, reappearing at lunchtime the next day. He was also known to sleep on any one of a series of futons located in random bedrooms and offices throughout the building, supposedly to frustrate a would-be assassin.

So when he failed to emerge on March 1st 1953, nobody looked for him. By the time he was discovered, he had spent hours on the floor of his study in a semi-conscious state, having succumbed to a burst blood vessel in the brain. A year earlier, Stalin had decided that warnings about his health were part of a Jewish conspiracy to kill members of the ruling praesidium. A revolution, two world wars and three decades of scheming against his comrades had clearly taken its toll on the general secretary’s grip on reality.

The backdrop of suspicion and paranoia acts as a perfect playground for the comedic talents of Armando Iannucci, the creator of “The Thick of It”, “In the Loop” and “Veep”. His new film, “The Death of Stalin”—adapted from a French graphic novel by Fabien Nury—follows the dictator’s last hours. As a mute and moribund Stalin drifts in and out of consciousness, his petrified praesidium starts planning for what might follow.

In the ensuing Machiavellian match, it quickly becomes clear that the murderous Lavrenti Beria (Simon Russell Beale) represents the greatest threat. As head of the secret police (NKVD), he has the power to arrest and execute his enemies. Beria has looted Stalin’s private records, destroying evidence of his own cruelty while clinging on to the documents indicating the complicity of his colleagues in the USSR’s numerous atrocities. Now he has the muscle and the dirt to destroy his rivals and take power.

When Stalin finally dies, an ethereal Georgy Malenkov, played by Jeffrey Tambor, attempts to fill his shoes. But he utterly fails to stamp his authority on the situation, coming across as an overwhelmed supply teacher charged with controlling a chaotic inner-city classroom. If Beria’s despotism is to be prevented, aspiring reformist Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi) will have to be the man to do it—but not before organising the funeral of the century in Red Square.

Read the rest here.

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