The Death of Stalin (2018)


Directed by Armando Iannucci
Country: UK / other

Not all the filmmakers have the capacity of gathering sensitive political and historical material and turn it into a pleasurable satirical parody that stirs our intellect in a totally different way. With just a couple of feature-length films, Italian-born Armando Iannucci is surely one of them, asserting his gift with comedies such as “In The Loop”, and now “The Death of Stalin”, a tongue-in-cheek caricature of the post-Stalinism struggle for power. Its conception was based on the French graphic novel of the same name.

In 1953, the paranoia related to Josef Stalin's dark list consumes the nerves of common civilians, red army soldiers, and high-ranked politicians in Moscow. There are numerous arrests, tortures, and deaths, which become more and more exaggerated as they kept being ordered by the tyrant Russian leader (Adrian McLoughlin) and his feared right arm and NKVD’s head, Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale). Rumors are that the duo has already locked up half the nation.

In order to give us an idea of how improper things work around there, the director fabricates a scene of a classical music concerto whose recording is unexpectedly required by Stalin through an unusual direct phone call. Because nobody had recorded it, the artists were forced to play the Mozart recital again while the audience was encouraged to applaud even more. However, pianist Maria Yudina (Olga Kurylenko), an opposer of the regime, refuses to play and had to be bribed to step on stage for the second time. 


Following Stalin’s cerebral hemorrhage and consequent death, the main members of the Central Committee - the cynical Beria, the slippery first secretary Nikita Krushchev (Steve Buscemi), the conspiring foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov (Michael Palin), and the vain deputy general secretary Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor) get ready to fiercely dispute the leadership. Other ministers join the four vultures in a ceremonious if hilarious funeral that is further disturbed by the presence of Stalin’s drunken son, Vasily (Rupert Friend), the unwelcome yet invited ultra-orthodox bishops, and Zhukov (Jason Isaacs), the authoritarian marshal of the Soviet Union who is also scheming in hopes to hold sway.

By employing a wry, British-like humor, Iannucci, who co-wrote with David Schneider and regular collaborator Ian Martin, satirizes the episodes with whirlwinds of tension and mordant tones, regardless the historical inaccuracies that his script may contemplate. 

The narrative is no slack and there’s always something happening that keeps us alert and grinning from ear to ear. As the farce moves forward, it becomes irresistibly chaotic, zany, and jocular, ingredients one should expect from this type of provocative comedy. The ensemble cast was so daredevil in their absurdist roles, and the sequence of events so wild, that the film was banned in Russia and other former members of the Soviet Union.