Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB
Original Title: Dorogie tovarishchi
Russia, 2020. Production Center of Andrei Konchalovsky. Screenplay by Elena Kiseleva, Andrey Konchalovskiy. Cinematography by Andrey Naydenov. Produced by Andrey Konchalovskiy. Production Design by Irina Ochina. Costume Design by Dmitriy Andreev, Konstantin Mazur. Film Editing by Karolina Maciejewska, Sergey Taraskin. National Board of Review Awards 2020. Venice Film Festival 2020.
Lyudmila , a Soviet party executive on the council of the city of Novocherkassk, wakes up early to go to the local dispensary to get her food supplies before the crowds begin, arriving to find the store swarming with people. A rumour has spread that the government is raising food prices and people aren’t waiting to find out if it is true, angering our true-blue communist heroine who had fought for Stalin’s ideology during the second World War and now expects people to tough things out in the name of a greater principle. Things go from tense to chaotic when the town’s factory employees strike in protest at the news of inflation, leading to a riot and massacre as authorities swoop down and begin shooting people in the streets. Lyudmila’s daughter Svetka was one of the factory’s employees and she can’t find her in the escaping stampede, spending the rest of her day desperately looking through the local hospital and morgue hoping to find her, then daring to circumvent the city’s blockade to go even further, fearing that she might be looking for evidence of her daughter’s arrest, or worse, death. Andrey Konchalovsky’s drama thrums with intelligence and excitement, opening with a lot of lengthy, dry speeches by ideologues whose principles are put to the test by experience: Lyudmila is so strong in her beliefs that she wholeheartedly fights with Svetka about them, even coming to blows, but does she truly believe in the letter of her country’s law when it is no longer in favour of her own family’s remaining complete? The answer is made clear by his rather outrageous choice of a boxed in aspect ratio and black and white film stock, the truth is we would get the message even if Konchalovsky didn’t style this like a retro-minded art house film. That’s a small quibble, however, as he judges his protagonist from a distance and allows us to sympathize with her very human plight as she defies an entire nation’s political structure to find her kid, making for a film that raises its tension at just the right moment and never lets it go until the end.