The Death of Stalin 21.10.17
My first issue wasn't with the film but the cinema. Two price hikes by Cameo within so many months left me with the cost of £9.20 for a film, on a student membership. It's strange how the little things can unsettle you beforehand, but the Cameo always felt like my cinema. Given that they've given a make-over to the bar, one which now provides fewer seats if you're single, I did sit down for the film in not the best of moods.
The Death of Stalin is a good, fun film regardless. Perhaps because it's playing for laughs, it doesn't evoke the potential for pathos: of once-idealistic men reduced to pall-bearers at the funeral of a monster. What we get is a power struggle between middle-aged administrators of varying degrees of competence. There is little talk of revolution or past ideals – when these politburo members decide to release a host of people, it seems to be as much down to self-interest as a fresh start. These are politicians exhausted by the regime of terror they've helped establish.
Which is also the biggest drawback with this film. Under the spotlight are politicians who remember the October 1917 revolution, when they tried to build a better world. Would it have been so difficult to incorporate just a bit more historical context, to give some added gravity? Because for me, something was ever so slightly missing, a comedy just a bit too lightweight for the subject. All the executions and arrests that go on in the background of this film didn't shake me in the way I think it should have. And the men themselves are the kind of self-interested careerists you'd imagine anywhere – with the possible exception of the brutal Beria.
Speaking of which: Beria, for me the most fascinating and complex member of Stalin's cabinet, is here just a flat-track, scheming bully. But historically, he was also a reformer, keen on allowing East Germany free elections, after Stalin's death, as if realizing the PR disaster the Iron Curtain was creating. Beria was so much more than just a sadistic torturer, even if he was that too. We don't see that side of him here, however. All we get is the scheming and the torture. The most memorable characters in this film are 2-D people whom we never really see behind the plotting.So to my conclusion: The Death of Stalin isn't a film about ideologies or ideas, or an idealistic experiment gone wrong. It's one more exposé by Armando Ianucci, to go along with The Thick of It and Veep, about the venality and vanity of politicians. Yes there are several funny moments, mainly involving Jeremy Isaac's Marshal Zhukov, Michael Palin's Molotov and the pathetic Malenkov played by Jeffrey Tambor. I laughed, and enjoyed the light, anti-politician comedy. But weirdly for a comedy that should be so black, a curious lack of substance is what I took from this film.