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'The Death of Stalin' Is the Life of This Film

Janeen Mathisen

Posted on June 12, 2020 00:31

5 users

You'll get a kick out of this absurd flick based on a real event.

The Death of Stalin is a bizarre take on real-life events. The film is set in a world supposedly like our own in every way, yet slightly skewed to favor comedic endeavors at every possible opportunity. In this world, logic is not a strong force. Here, the death of a tyrant is met with a historically accurate power struggle among Stalin's inner circle, save that they are all so fumblingly inept that productivity is a rarity as they set out to eat each other alive to gain power.

The comedy begins subtle. As the film begins in a hall where an orchestra is performing and on-screen text gives context to the terror of the period's current government, the jarring transition to the inside of the recording booth as a phone rings gets its comedy from being so unexpected. It's a normal sound, but the timing of its presentation turns it, and other items in the recording booth, into tools for comedy. The concert's piano was calm and serene, and the next sound given to the audience is the unnervingly loud jangle of an old-fashioned telephone manned by an inept radio director. In a bit of clever direction, the inverse of this joke is used to equal effect. The director tells his companion to lower the sudden volume of the orchestra from the room below, and this time instead of sound-producing a laugh, immediate and awkward silence is used instead.

Comedy also comes from characters. In real life, while Stalin's inner circle was as terrible as he, warped perspective, while not shying away from their sickening crimes exaggerates their personalities for subtle comedy. When Lavrentiy Beria, chief of security and secret police, stumbles around the office where Stalin lies dead on the floor, he begins switching important files. To hand one of them off to an officer, however, he cannot exit through the room's main doorway and risk exposing the body to others. Instead, he fumbles open a window and summons an officer standing outside. The wide camera shot gives audiences a fine view of the absurdity of the situation, as a lone pudgy hand — the red file stark against the green building — dangles the documents above the head of a clueless officer.

Later, the director utilizes both character and sound in a single comedic moment. At Stalin's extravagant funeral, the first secretary of the Communist Party Nikita Khrushchev, the prominent character opposing Beria, wants to trade places with Georgy Malenkov in the ceremony. Malenkov refuses and Khrushchev proceeds anyway, making his smooth attempt to switch suddenly clumsy, as somber funeral music runs a contradictory undercurrent to his frustration.

The Death of Stalin transforms the death of an infamous dictator into a farce filled with shenanigans and subtlety as the members of the inner circle try to stab each other in the back, confusion and hilarity resulting from their incompetent actions. If you're in the mood for an absurd, wacky comedy then check this out!  

Janeen Mathisen

Posted on June 12, 2020 00:31

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