The Death of Stalin Screen 16 articles

The Death of Stalin

2017

The Death of Stalin Poster
  • Iannucci’s direction never has a grasp of either facts or consequences, falling back on the caustic byplay and revilement that works for Veep, in lieu of any sense of context (it is supposed to be February in Moscow, yet there isn’t a speck of snow on the ground). The only snowstorm onscreen is a blizzard of shtick from this group of free agents who never manage to mesh as an ensemble.

  • So much of the subject at hand -- the mass executions and all-encompassing terror, in particular -- simply _aren't_ funny. Comedy is _not_ necessarily "tragedy plus time," and Iannucci recognizes this on some level. . . . One suspects the film is even supposed to "resonate with the present day," or something. But the U.S.S.R. depicted here is part Coen Brothers' glib cynicism, part Mack Sennett slapstick, with a dash of Downfall's hightoned verisimilitude, just to confuse matters.

  • It’s clear that Iannucci is not going for a full-on iteration of his brand of comedy. Yes, “The Death of Stalin” is a kind of farce, but it’s a mordant one. It never asks us to laugh at cruelty; it does make us laugh at the absurd pettiness and ultimate small-mindedness of the men perpetrating that cruelty. And Iannucci is a superb ringmaster.

  • Nobody shuts up for a nanosecond in The Death of Stalin, a wickedly gabby black comedy. . . . Expertly wheeling between total stitch and holy terror as he searches for new victims to add to his infamous list of candidates for imminent knockoff, Beria and his roster propel the movie's bitter running joke — the creation of a climate of insanity in which no one knows from one minute to the next what's real and what's fake news or, more frightening yet, no news.

  • The laughs come in jolts and waves in “The Death of Stalin,” delivered in a brilliantly arranged mix of savage one-liners, lacerating dialogue and perfectly timed slapstick that wouldn’t be out of place in a Three Stooges bit. Turning horror into comedy is nothing new, but Mr. Iannucci’s unwavering embrace of these seemingly discordant genres as twin principles is bracing.

  • Iannucci collapses the distance between 1953 and 2018 and Moscow and Washington in an interesting, even daring way. Despite its lavish period detail and scrupulously researched screenplay (by Iannucci and a trio of longtime collaborators), the film does not attempt to have its cast look or speak Russian, or even attempt accents. . . . If The Death of Stalin isn’t as startlingly funny as [In the Loop], it’s only because the mode of attack has grown familiar.

  • It would be a brilliant, harrowing film even without all that contemporary resonance. It’s filled with the kind of rapid-fire intramural contempt that Iannucci has made his stock-in-trade: His films and shows revel in the loathing and vitriol expressed by political figures at others who are ostensibly on the same side. It’s fun stuff, but in a deeply corrosive way – daring to suggest that people engaged in a soul-sickening endeavor will find, well, their souls sickened.

  • A dark comedy with an inappropriately antic tone, opening here a week after Purim, The Death of Stalin has something to offend everyone—Slavophiles and Slavophobes, The Nation and The National Review, erudite professors and historical ignoramuses, neo-Stalinists and anti-Stalinists of all persuasions. As orchestrated by the British political satirist Armando Ianucci, . . . this impressively designed, perversely enjoyable movie travesties one of the most brutal regimes in human history.

  • The script, adapted by Iannucci, David Schneider, and Ian Martin from a French graphic novel, has its insights into the stark contrast between authoritarian ambitions and the shoddiness of life in Soviet Union under Stalin. . . . The situational humor is more varied than in In The Loop, even if it still largely comes down to a lot of people badgering each other in hallways, offices, and banquet halls. But the dialogue lacks the earlier film’s vicious, creative, lighting-fast profanity.

  • In the first fifteen minutes, even before the generalissimus suffers his brain hemorrhage, Iannucci paints perhaps the most accurate picture of life under Soviet terror that anyone has ever committed to film. . . . Iannucci shows something that few people understand about Stalin’s reign and its aftermath: that it was both terrifying and ridiculous, and terrifying in its ridiculousness.

  • Iannucci's political satire has always operated via the farce of snowballing social faux pas, but the filmmaker has difficulty translating that to the Soviet system where those in power never even have to suffer the illusion of public accountability. . . . Zhukov's magnetic presence and fearless demeanor brings focus back to The Death of Stalin, resulting in a climax of grisly moves that secure Khrushchev's position at the top of the Soviet Union.

  • ++

    Film Comment: Lauren Kaminsky
    March 03, 2018 | March/April 2018 Issue (pp. 39-42)

    The history of Stalinism is particularly bleak, even by Soviet standards, but director Armando Iannucci tells it like a joke. As comedy out of historical tragedy, The Death of Stalin is thankfully more Mel Brooks's History of the World: Part I than Roberto Benigni's Life Is Beautiful—which is to say dirty, irreverent, and riotously funny.

  • Much of the visual style – the blood-and-snow palette, the sense of the squirmingly personal caught within the rigid apparatus of state – is clearly inspired by the work of Nury and Robin, but the whipsmart dialogue and deftly syncopated timing are pure Iannucci. The film is uproariously funny but painfully close to the bone in a world where once again the lunatics have taken over the asylum.

  • The film's punchlines range from Steve Buscemi's Nikita Khrushchev engaging in sassy banter, a puddle of Joseph Stalin's piss, and a threat of the Gulag to any unlucky bystander. But even while laughing, you can almost feel Iannucci and Co. breathing over your shoulder, hoping to "make you think." Not too different from the rest of today's extended universe of "shots fired" liberal media, The Death of Stalin's satirical bite has little longevity and potency.

  • Taken strictly as a workout in elastic ensemble performance and rapid-fire verbal pugilism, The Death of Stalin is consistently entertaining. But enjoying Iannucci’s film means depoliticizing the source material (beyond stale gags about the pitfalls of collective decision-making) and reckoning with a certain privilege of perspective. A final scene puts Beria’s downfall in parallel to Khrushchev’s 11 years later—a final giveaway that Iannucci is more interested in easy slapstick than history.

  • The vibe is very Monty Python, especially in the offhand, unperturbed delivery of lines like “Shoot her before him but make sure he sees it,” but when you score that with lots of period-appropriate classical music and ground it in actual terror — deployed largely in British accents indiscriminately mixed with Americans — the elements doesn’t gel.

More Links