Fish and Cherries Productions

Creative content from a mad mind.


Reel Snippet – The Death of Stalin

Summary: In the coldest time of Russian history, Joseph Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin) ruled the motherland with a cruel and tyrannical fist… until he suddenly died. Panicked by the vacuum left in his passing, his cabinet — including Head of the Moscow Party Nikita Kruschev (Steve Buschemi), Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov (Michael Palin), head of the secret police Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale), and Deputy General Secretary Georgy Malenkov (Jeffery Tambor) – scramble desperately to get the country back in order, trying to decide which of Stalin’s decrees to keep or throw away. Even with Malenkov acting as the de facto leader of the nation, problems still crop up as Beria tries to pull strings to get more power. Add to that Stalin’s raving paranoid son Vasily (Rupert Friend) and an irate Field Marshall Georgy Zhukov (Jason Isaacs) irritated that the Army has been all but replaced by the secret police and you have a recipe for one heck of a powder keg.

Review: The Death of Stalin is one bizarre flick — a dry humor comedy about the days following the death of one of the most tyrannical rulers of one of the most bloody regimes in history. The tone can change without a hint of notice, yet the transitions feel seamless and everything fits together in one giant, odd Picasso of a movie. Just as well, as there are loads of colorful actors adding to the experience like Steve Buscemi, Monty Python’s Michael Palin, and the ever-amazing Jeffrey Tambor. With a mixture like that, how can you get any other flavor but absurd?

This film is a very European comedy, a term I picked up from a comic strip.. The strip depicts a movie where everyone dies, shows an American audience devastated and in tears, and then a European audience laughing their butts off. “European comedies” have unpleasantness and suffering either as a backdrop or woven into the story. This is especially true here as during numerous witty conversations, obscene amounts of people are being calmly escorted from their homes to be imprisoned, executed, or imprisoned and executed. The humor here definitely comes from the sheer excess of oppressed people, compounded by the closing credits where more and more people get scratched out or erased from stock photos (Comrade Stalin was notorious for erasing political opponents or “traitors” from any form of public record) until we’re left with nothing but scratched out photos. It’s as if the filmmakers are saying, “You know, when you step back and look at it, this whole Stalin affair was kinda goofy.”

That, more than anything, will determine whether or not you like this movie: whether you can laugh at one of history’s bleakest periods. I imagine quite a few people would find this about as tasteless as a Holocaust joke, but others could definitely get a kick out of what a circus it was behind the scenes. Personally, I laughed through quite a bit of it, but in some ways, it was more surreal than Monty Python, a comedy series built on nonsense. There’s definitely a place for this kind of comedy, but whether it has a place in your life is up to your own dang self.

Fun Tidbit: No one in this movie speaks with a Russian accent, something Director Armando Iannucci insisted on because he didn’t want the audience distracted by accent authenticity. Bizarrely, this decision was praised by Russian journalists who saw the film.

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