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The Death of Stalin (2017)


14th July 2018

An average turnout of perhaps 50 souls came to watch what I thought would turn out to be a comedy with a factual basis. As it turned out it was more dramatized documentary with a few minor chuckles thrown in. I did not care for the bad language and violence but prudishness increases with age. The four short films - all comedies with a Russian connection (albeit tenuous in one case) were not outstanding but did produce a few laughs. With a better understanding of the main feature perhaps shorts more in keeping with its theme would have been selected by our videographer. They were: What's Virgin Mean, Red Handed, Super-Skill Brigade, & The Exchange - award winners all. We were using a new blackout construction for the first time and found that stopping the programme while your reporter made a quick adjustment became necessary. Technically we were challenged by an absence of volume for the main film; something that stopping and restarting resolved but in a rather unpolished way. Those who heeded the teasing suggestions in our social media posts and bought raffle tickets were well rewarded as everyone who bought a raffle ticket won three DVDs. Evidence of how well the cinema was dressed is available in our Facebook album. Eugene.

The discussion group gathered together after watching Armando Ianucci’s dark political satire about the Soviet Central Committee’s struggle for power after Stalin’s death. Some fine performances from a star-studded cast, especially Simon Russell Beale’s chilling portrayal of Beria, leader of the secret police. Here were some of our points: Where was the reality in the film - what was true? Alain, our discussion lead, told us the film was based on a French graphic novel. We talked about the way in which Russian’s contemporary responses to the Stalin era had some reflection in British feelings about our colonialist past. The use of the actors’ genuine accents, rather than pseudo Russian, also worked as a distancing technique, as well as showing the regional diversity of Stalin’s committee

Can we make links between Trump and the story told in this movie? We talked about the paranoia, ruthlessness and backstabbing that power creates. The use of coded language was fascinating, for example when Stalin’s daughter Svetlana is reassured by Khrushchev that she won’t come to harm – which makes her anxious that this indeed will happen

Some of us found it hard to watch the violence. However, the scene that really communicated the fear of the period was the farcical re-running of the Mozart Piano Concerto, where a conductor was pulled out of his bed to lead the orchestra, simply because Stalin demanded a recording. The audience, resigned to returning to their seats, were reassured that they weren’t going to be shot. The remarkable story of the pianist, Maria Yudina is told here https://www.classicfm.com/discover-music/latest/maria-yudina-stalin/ Although a small discussion group, afterwards we found that four of us shared Eastern European roots. It’s those surprises that make coming to Rusthall Community Cinema such a delight! Anne Goldstein

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