‘Dear Comrades!’ Review: When the Party Line Becomes a Tightrope
In 1962, the Soviet government troops in Novocherkassk, a city in the Don region in southern Russia, violently suppressed a strike against rising food prices. It would take decades for the event to be recognized by official sources. A KGB report, revealed after the fall of the Soviet Union, said that 20 bodies from the “liquidation” were “buried in various places.” But for years the carnage was eclipsed from the public. Body? Which body?
The well-known massacre of Novocherkassk only takes place shortly before the half-time mark of “Dear Comrades!” Directed by Andrei Konchalovsky, the film dramatizes these events primarily from the perspective of Lyuda (Julia Vysotskaya), a city official at the Communist Party headquarters. In this way, almost everything shown before and after the violence is the most desolate of all the gritty comedies, as bureaucrats attempt to reconcile the emergence of a strike with the state narrative of socialist prosperity.
Lyuda, whose position allows her hypocritical access to select goods, understands that her committee will be to blame. The “clarification process” she is involved in, which explains why workers should accept increased food costs even if their wages fall, “clearly has not clarified enough,” she says. She becomes nostalgic for the days of Stalin. Nothing bad officially took place at that time either, although Khrushchev had just expelled Stalin’s body from Lenin’s grave as part of a revisionist procedure. “Why didn’t he say anything when Stalin was still alive?” Asks Lyuda in remorseful acknowledgment of the denial of the past.
Such mismatches between words and circumstances could be comical if Konchalovsky didn’t so seamlessly fill every scene with a tense, sickening sense of inevitability; In an exciting way it is difficult to get the tone of “Dear Comrades!” every moment. Rioters believe that Soviet soldiers will not shoot them. High-ranking officials do not see the point in an army without ammunition.
Later, after the carnage that Konchalovsky, perhaps best known in the US for the tight action film “Runaway Train” (1985), renders in quick, brutal blows, the goal becomes to erase it. Blood that the sun has burned on the sidewalk can always be paved. Lyuda, whose daughter (Yulia Burova) was involved in the protests and goes missing after the protests, could possibly save them – by writing a report urging the instigators not to show mercy. The KGB issues confidentiality agreements about the events. (What cannot be revealed? Everything. What is the punishment? As much as death.) In the most grimly absurd scene, Viktor (Andrei Gusev), a KGB agent who eventually becomes Lyuda’s confidante, tries to suggest the absurd scope of the promise a nurse – when she learns she was in the crowd, she is immediately arrested.
Konchalovsky adds a claustrophobic visual style to the atmosphere of bolt tensioning. “Dear comrades!” is recorded in black and white and with almost square image dimensions instead of widescreen. Even the choice of angles with an emphasis on doors and private rooms adds to the feeling of a stealthy life.
Not rated. In Russian with subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 1 minute. Take a look at the virtual cinema of the Filmforum.