I clicked with this movie very quickly just reading the promotional material send about it with a link to the film. You might say I have lived through part of it having spent about a year of my life in the Eastern Block or often referred to as the Communist Block of Eastern Europe. I have waited in food lines, been tailed by police, meet with families of defectors to the West, been to the Berlin Wall, had my Canadian passport thrown in my face by an East German border guard because my middle name is “Kennedy” and most importantly have seen the vast privileges given to Communist Party members. In Bucharest my student friend played tennis with the son of the Minister of Energy for Romania so we managed to be served East German beer in big tubs full of ice while less well connected citizens were only able to order vile Romanian beer.
In “Dear Comrades” the Russian Communist system is exposed to many viewers who may think it shocking and eye-opening. With my travel experiences and political science studies of Eastern Europe this film simply is an affirmation of what I have seen and experienced.
If you are a Communist Party member of high enough standing you received better housing, better access to food, good vacations and were members of a privileged caste.
Lyudmila (perfectly played by Julia Vysotskaya)is a devout Communist Party member working at the local committee in 1962 USSR in a smaller provincial town. And the unheard of happens. The local locomotive factory goes on strike. The higher ups are scandalized with a strike by workers in a Communist state where a supposed dictatorship of the proletariat existed but in reality it is the dictatorship of the Communist Party.
The workers are angered by increased food prices and a cut in wages and are not swayed by Party propaganda that this is temporary and will soon result in an abundance of food.
Lyudmila’s daughter Svetka works at the factory and gets caught up the strikers. Word quickly reaches Moscow and the military and KGB are sent in to control the matter but the strikers join with workers at other factories and march into town smashing and trashing the Local Committee offices.
Two higher up Committee members are sent into town under orders of Comrade Khrushchev and the army locks down the town. The KGB have a team of spies collecting information on the “instigators”. The mob is told to depart or they will be fired on by the army despite the fact the constitution of the USSR forbids the Soviet army to fire on its own citizens. We do see them firing in the air but there are countless dead and wounded. The KGB snipers were busy at work.
It is quite clear Moscow is running the show. Even the casualty count is officially 8 but scores of other bodies have been whisked to other towns and buried in unmarked graves. The entire town is forced to sign “secrecy documents” more or less saying if you tell anyone about what happened in this town you are as good as dead. The dictatorship of the Party is absolute so the Party thinks. But when a student came up to me in a bar in Poland and whispered to me, “I love Capitalism” he wasn’t telling me anything new. The tired sarcasm and sickness of being lied to and cheated by the Communist Party acts like a glaring spotlight from the Berlin Wall at night.
How would I describe this film aside from a scathing attack on communism it might be a bit of comedy, sarcasm, mockery and a very great tragedy. Russians murdering Russians is not the direction Lenin and Karl Marx could have envisaged neither could they foresee the rise of dictator and mass murderer Stalin.
Is Lyudmila’s experience and incorrectly perceived strategy open her eyes to the corruption of the Communist Party? While swigging vodka and lamenting her perceived tragedy she states she wished Stalin were still alive as “We can’t do it without him.”
Remember when the Berlin Wall fell and the property of the state mysteriously ended up in the hands of the oligarchs there were many older Russians wishing for the “stability” of Stalinism.
One wonders now with a President in perpetual power and opposition members and journalists murdered or poisoned has anything changed from Tsarist days which brought about such desperate political conditions it gave rise to Communism.
A stark black and white film well directed by Andrei Konchalovsky. Would a movie about current political conditions be made these days in Russia?
You can see the trailer here http://www.filmswelike.com/films/dear-comrades
The film is the Russian entry for Best International Feature Film at the 93rd Academy awards. It opens virtually on February 5th at TIFF Bell Lightbox and then as of February 12th at select cinemas throughout Canada.
Grab your oaked Chardonnay and buttered popcorn and settle down for a two hour film in Russian with English subtitles. On the other hand if you have some caviar and vodka on hand……..