The Death of Stalin
I came across this little gem on Showtime. If it ever hit the movie theaters, I don’t have a memory of it, however this film has a great cast with some…interesting casting choices (Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev?). Wikipedia called this a “political satire black comedy,” which is one way to describe it. I would have called it an absurdist comedy, but in any case, the movie takes a real historical event and makes it absurd.
In 1953, Josef Stalin abruptly dies, throwing his coterie of yes men and toadies into a frenzied panic. After years of being kept in an almost continuous state of terror in which one wrong slip could land one in prison or worse by the mercurial Stalin, they suddenly find themselves in a continuous state of terror by each other, as they maneuver to preserve and extend their power and keep their heads. It’s no spoiler to say that Khrushchev eventually wins the power struggle, but the constant scheming and casual betrayals makes for some high comedy.
Of note is that the character of Lavrentiy Beria, played by British Actor Simon Russel Beale, is probably one of the most evil men of the 20th Century (Beria, not Beale of course). However in this telling, he comes across as the most sympathetic, as he moves to undo some of the damage he caused under Stalin. Naturally, no good deed goes unpunished, and no; that’s not a spoiler, its history. Educate yourselves (as any college freshman is happy to tell anyone twice as old with twice the formal education).
This is 1984 if done as a comedy, and if you look at it just the right way, totalitarianism, and its oppressive orthodoxies, are comedic. As Stalin’s inner circle changes their opinions to fit the current party line, we can laugh at such an absurd society, and carefully delete what we just wrote on twitter, since what was an ordinary comment yesterday becomes a thought crime today. The bobbing, weaving and careful choosing of words among Stalin’s men might be reminiscent of a modern college social science class, making this a movie that is relevant in the current year.
Plus, this movie is banned in Russia!
My Netflix Review: Look Who’s Back
Finally, here is the story of a politician who is literally Hitler.
In the same way that the buffet at the Golden Corral is larger than my stomach, my list in Netflix is much larger than my available time to view the cornucopia of shows. However prompted by a friend’s recommendation, I pulled this one out of my list and into the “watching now” category. Look Who’s Back is a German language film that I still thought Germany wasn’t ready for. How to deal with Hitler has been an annoying hangnail of German discourse for over seventy years, and this movie is an interesting take on Germany’s “Hitler Question.”
Instead of pulling the trigger in his Berlin bunker, Hitler finds himself hurled forward in time to the far future year of 2014. Found by recently fired TV producer, Fabian Sawatzki, Fabian plots to return to TV by filming a documentary on the person he perceives as a Hitler performance artist. So Hitler and Fabian go on a road trip across modern Germany to film German’s reaction to “Hitler.” Hitler of course, sees this as the groundwork to return to power, and much of the film is devoted to laughing locals asking Hitler questions and Hitler responding. In one scene, while talking with a married couple, Hitler asks for their vote. When they laughing decline to vote for him; Hitler asks for their address for the first round of mass arrests. They laugh again because that’s the bit; no one takes him seriously, it’s all a joke; a gag for television.
For Hitler, it’s not a joke. And eventually, even Fabian starts to get suspicions that this “performance artist” may be a bit darker than he thought. But it’s still all fun and games until finally, someone really recognizes him for who he is.
As an American, I’m not a fan of foreign films that are filmed in funny talk, or as most people know it, a foreign language. I’m also suspicious of foreign comedy films since comedy is a shifting target across cultures and languages. However this was a comedy that was actually funny, even across cultures and language. In fact, it provided a couple of laugh out loud moments, which is becoming rarer in so called “comedy” movies.
So my advice is to go see both of these films. The Party commands it.