Stalin’s Death as Farce and Burlesque

DATELINE: So-so Soviet

 

buscemi & tambor

Krushchev & Malenkov at Stalin’s funeral.

Maybe we missed the lesson of the Cold War in which the ruthless homicidal dictator killer was surrounded by fawning idiots like extras and operetta buffoons. The Death of Stalin makes a point that defies historical truth.

Indeed, the opening minutes may strike you as a Monty Python-style farce (compounded with the appearance of Michael Palin), with a posse of dunces dancing to the whim of Stalin. They must entertain him and do his bidding, lest they end up like everyone else:  on a hit list.

Their cruel inaction over the dying Stalin as he lay on the floor in his odeur is the nastiest of political satire. Jeffrey Tambor is Malenkov, the weaking second-in-command and under heavy pressure from Krushchev (Buschemi).

The film features endless background executions in a variety of appalling ways, carried out ruthlessly, to the gallows humor of men like Nikita Krushchev, played in thin fashion by Steve Buschemi.

Most of the Communist comrades speak with British accents, jarring at first, ridiculous in deliberance.

What starts as a black comedy set in 1953 becomes more and more disturbing, despite pathetic Vasily Stalin and sister Svetlana, horrified and fearful at what might befall them with their despot father’s death.

From the early antics of a Monty Python, the film devolves into The Godfather, as these small-minded committee commies become more frightful and violent. We can almost fully believe there is more political truth than satire here. This is Swiftian justice meted out by the Lilliputians.

The evolution of Nikita Krushchev from second banana to dangerous rival to the predatory Beria, Stalin’s child molesting henchman, is truly the centerpiece of this political free-for-all. Buschemi’s performance is ultimately a marvel to behold.

Fast-moving and surprising, it is a film to put on your viewing list.