The Death of Stalin and the Life of Comedy
A tiresome old joke/camp prank; Put someone’s hand in a bowl of warm water and they will pee themselves. Told through the mouth of Khrushchev about Stalingrad and it is off kilter. A follow up by Lavrentiy Beria “What, put a chocolate bar in their pocket and they s*** themselves?” and the joke takes on a new dimension. Put a tomato in that pocket symbolizing blood, and you have the comedy of The Death of Stalin.
Steve Buscemi as a clownish Khrushchev. Simon Russel Beale the vicious Beria. Micheal Palin a calculating Molotov. Jeffery Tambor. Paddy Considine. Jason Isaacs. The list of names goes on. Or, rather, they just go, when Beria has his way. And that is half the humor. The black absurdity of life in Soviet Russia under Stalin means that when in doubt politically, shoot the person next to you so as to leave no discrepancies in your tale.
Directed by Armando Iannucci, the creator of Veep, and based on a French comic book, the surface gags come at the first level of the film; limousines scrambling to be first in line, Stalin’s love of westerns, while the second creeps up behind you. Death, groupthink, paranoia, indifference. For, much like in Iannucci’s Veep, only the venal care to climb to the top. And while a reformer might become the Top Man, another brute is waiting in the wings.
**A note; none of the actors speak with a fake accent. So you have the northern English of Jason Issacs, the Brooklynese of Buscemi, a posh Beal. At first, this may seem a little odd, but it really helps delineate the characters. No one is searching for a not-quite-right phrasing, and you understand the regional facets much more clearly. I, at least wouldn’t know a Moscow accent from a Ukranian from Latvian. But, I know English accents.
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