Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB. France/United Kingdom/Belgium/Canada, 2017. Quad Productions, Main Journey, Gaumont, France 3 Cinéma, Panache Productions, Canal+, Cine+, France Télévisions, Title Media. Screenplay by Armando Iannucci, David Schneider, Ian Martin, additional material by Peter Fellows, from a screenplay by Fabien Nury, based on the comic book by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin. Cinematography by Zac Nicholson. Produced by Catherine Dumonceaux, Nicolas Duval Adassovsky, Kevin Loader, Sofia Maltseva, Tanya Sokolova, Laurent Zeitoun, Yann Zenou. Music by Christopher Willis. Production Design by Cristina Casali. Costume Design by Suzie Harman. Film Editing by Peter Lambert. Toronto International Film Festival 2017.
After a night of planning the next in his series of injustices and cruelties, Stalin takes to his bedroom, has a seizure and keels over onto the floor. His maid finds him the next morning, his committee is notified and they carry him to his bed while trying to decide what to do, since it seems very unlikely that he will recover. Egos smash up against each other as his close council members (including Jeffrey Tambor as Georgy Malenkov, Steve Buscemi as Khrushchev, Michael Palin as Vyacheslav Molotov, Simon Russell Beale as Beria and, the best of them, Jason Isaacs as Zhukov) wheel and deal their loyalties while at the same time wondering if the victims of Stalin’s megalomania should be left rotting in prison or perhaps released. The dictator’s daughter (Andrea Riseborough) shows up to be at her father’s side while his alcoholic son (Rupert Friend) becomes even more unruly and bratty and the proceedings get so much more chaotic at every turn of the story. Directed by Armando Iannucci with British actors portraying Russian politicians as if they were characters in a sketch show, this film doesn’t have the hilarious mayhem of In The Loop or an episode of Veep; the opening sequence, in which Paddy Considine hilariously tries to get Olga Kurylenko (playing a famous concert pianist) to perform a concert for Stalin’s pleasure, is Iannucci feeding his fans what they already know before veering into another direction, operating on a much subtler, absurdist tone that allows for jokes to be told alongside a frank treatment of Stalin’s atrocities without upending the film. The gruesome details are not trivialized, Beale particularly does an unapologetic job of playing the man who gave bouquets of flowers to the women he raped without taking us out of the realm of comedy as social commentary. That said, the focus on the (global) ridiculousness of people commanding great power by acting like feral animals is emphasized so hard and treated with so little irony that the film, despite being so intelligently performed, comes off a bit one-note and leaves far too grim a feeling than it should.