Sunday, May 27, 2012


Stalin; drama, USA, 1992; D: Ivan Passer, S: Robert Duvall, Julia Ormond, Maximilian Schell, Jeroen Krabbe, Joan Plowright

Svetlana Alliluyeva narrates the 29 years of reign of her father: Iosif Dzhugashvili, who later took the nickname Stalin - i.e. 'Man of steel' - arrived from the Siberian exile in order to overthrow the Tsar and help establish the Soviet Union and communism during World War I. At first, Lenin is in charge of the new government, but after his death Stalin outplayed all his opponents and took control. With time, he gathered more and more power from Moscow, creating famine, gulags and purges of his opponents, turning even more ruthless after his wife Nadezhda committed suicide. After his victory in World War II, he considered himself unstoppable. In '53, he died, while Nikita Khruschev revealed the scale of his crimes.

A long overdue biography on one of the most notorious dictators of the 20th century, who apparently caused the death of about 7-10 million people over a span of three decades, "Stalin" is a solid, fluent and competent, but too simplified TV movie that left too many good parts out of the picture, even though its running time is two and a half hours. For instance, the event known as Holodomor, where about 2,8 million people starved in the Ukraine during the Soviet industrialization, was reduced to only one brief sequence where Nadezhda sees a mass of hungry peasants from her train and one woman shouts to her: "Tell comrad Stalin about this! He must know!" The entire World War II was practically skipped since it was reduced to only five minutes, and of no better fate was the portrait of gulags that were practically omitted from the story. One of the few events where director Ivan Passer and writer Paul Monash did not take an approach of a vignette but actually gave enough screen time was the great purge that was shown in detail, especially the grim fate of Zinoviev and Kamenev in the aftermath of the suspicious assassination of Sergei Kirov (compared directly with a false flag operation), even though the story takes too much speculations at times (historians never found out if Ordzhonikidze truly died from a "heart failure" or if he committed suicide like it was shown here in one rather theatrical sequence). Due to a flat approach, the interesting story did not manage to ignite to the fullest, however it has one undeniable source of power, the brilliant, entirely convincing performance by Robert Duvall as Stalin, for which he won a Golden Globe as Best Actor - Miniseries or Television Film.


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