British Comedy “The Death of Stalin” Enrages Russia’s Communists

September 21, 2017

The Death of Stalin, a comedy by British director Armando Iannucci, is due to premiere on the world stage somewhere in the middle of October 2017.  The rights for the film in Russia were bought by a company called “Volga”, and the date for the film’s release is yet to be confirmed.  Nevertheless, not everyone is ready to poke fun at the former Soviet leader.

Regardless of the fact that no-one in Russia has yet seen the film, it has already managed to provoke a negative reaction from a number of Russian lawmakers who are now calling for the film to be banned in Russian cinemas.  The main opponents of the film were, as expected, members of the Communist Party of Russia.  They claim that the figure of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin has been distorted in the film, however, the actual role of Stalin in the film in minimal outside of his coffin.

Duma deputy Dmitry Rashkin has said that Stalin and other historical figures are depicted as “idiots” in the film.  “Let’s make a comedy about Queen Victoria with the same kind of below-the-belt abuse and jokes… They seem to have one goal: to humiliate our country, rather than to create a good feature film.”  Rashkin then added that the makers of the film should be banned from entering Russia.

The head of the Communist Party’s press service Alexander Yushenko has called the film “vile” and said that the decision to screen the film will be on the consciences of the Ministry of Culture, referring to the growing support for Stalin and Lenin among young people in Russia.  Yushenko added “I wouldn’t air such a PR campaign, like the infamous film about the Monarch, through the mass media.”

On September 18 Pavel Pozhigaylo, head of the Ministry of Culture’s public council also spoke out against the film.  He said that the council is giving a significant amount of attention to the film, and that it’s possible after reviewing that the council may recommend not issuing a rental certificate to the controversial film.  Pozhigaylo noted that Communists may not like the film, and that they may be driven to take “extreme measures”.  According to him, painting Stalin in a frivolous way is also “inappropriate” and the film should be given to so-called “experts” for a final verdict.

The original satyrical comedy “The Death of Stalin” was filmed by two French cartoonists Fabien Nouri and Thierry Robin.  The film takes place in 1953 immediately after the death of the Soviet leader, and tells the story of the struggle for power between members of the Soviet political elite.  All the heroes of the film are depicted grotesquely, and the makers of the film said that they do not claim to represent historical accuracy.  The trailer of the film is full of black humour, depicting Stalin’s entourage as a group of comical politicians who are ready to do just about anything to get their hands on the position of power.

Films about historical figures have caused serious conflict in Russian society recently.  The scandal surrounding Alexey Uchitel’s film “Matilda”, which depicts the affair between Tsar Nicholas II and the ballerina Matilda Kshesinskaya, has not become any more peaceful.  Duma deputy Natalia Poklonskaya claims that the film “offends the feelings of the faithful” and “defames the memory of the Tsar”.

Among those offended by the film are members of the “Christian State of Holy Russia”, the leader of whom was recently arrested for inciting his members to burn down cinemas that dared to show the film.  We can only hope that “The Death of Stalin” does not lead to the establishment of a “Communist State”.

Meanwhile Channel One recently revealed the release of a new series “Trotsky”, which tells the story of the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky.  Until this day the figure of Trotsky raises mixed reactions from Russian society, particularly among members of the Communist Party.  It remains mysterious why this particular series has not provoked such a reaction from Communists, while “The Death of Stalin” looks likely to be cut down by the censor. 


The original article first appeared on in Russian and has been slightly abridged in translation to English. 

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