12 April 2018 2.09am
The Death of Stalin 2017
An Armando Iannucci Film
There are several things I like about this film. Its direction and its production values: the attention to detail in art direction and set decoration, the commitment of the actors to the characters they’re playing, the cinematography and the casting. More than anything, the score which is a 10/10. It weaves themes from a Mozart Piano Concerto and Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony in a self-assured way that is beyond what I would expect from a good original film score. And, it does it with some of the greatest themes or motifs in the history of music, bringing them in to underline the scenes in the film with the most drama of the film’s story. The music works as the authentic, dynamic and brutal, feelings at the heart of a film of this subject matter, incongruous against the brawling comedy and the clowning of the actors with their Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, exchanges.
Love it or hate it, I don’t think there’s any doubt that The Death of Stalin is a bold film. Its comedy is of a level I would normally associate with a bedroom farce – or the adolescent humour of Black Adder – with its light-comedy approach of previous decades. And yet it plumbs the depths of the worst parts of human nature, its deadly machinations – a brother to Shakespeare’s most serious works about kings and princes and heir-apparents – where enemies ingratiate themselves to the point they appear to be the most loyal.
Anthony Lane, for whom I have great respect, writes in the New Yorker, that The Death of Stalin is
“a startling new film from Armando Iannucci… The dumbfounding thing about “The Death of Stalin” is that it’s a comedy — the broadest and often the bloodiest of farces. It is grossly neglectful of the basic decencies, cavalier toward historical facts, and toxically tasteless… The damnable problem, however, is that it’s funny; ten times funnier, by my reckoning, than it has any right to be, and more riddled with risk than anything that Iannucci has done before, because it dares to meet outrage with outrage… Every gag is girded with fear. The humor is so black that it might have been pumped out of the ground… Here is a society on the verge of a nervous breakdown… Perhaps comedy, far from being disqualified for so unhappy a task, is the only genre that can tackle it.” – Anthony Lane, New Yorker, March 2018