Andrei Konchalovsky’s “Dear Comrades!,” Russia’s entry this year for the Academy Award for Easiest International Feature Film (streaming on Hulu), opens with the chords of the Russian national anthem. The director was 5 or six years extinct when his father, Sergei Mikhalkov, first co-wrote the lyrics for the anthem, which integrated praise for Lenin and Stalin. Decades later, Mikhalkov rewrote the lyrics to take away Stalin, and, in 2000, immediately after Vladimir Putin became President, Mikhalkov, then in his eighties, rewrote the lyrics but again, omitting Lenin and, for the first time, invoking a supreme deity rather than a cult of personality: “From the southern seas to the polar edge / Our forests and fields have stretched. / You are the most fascinating one in the world! The most fascinating one treasure this / Our native land, protected by God.”
Mikhalkov, known primarily as a children’s poet, was one of the country’s most decorated writers; every baby in a country bustle by state fear may perhaps recite chunks of his sequence of poems about a friendly policeman named Uncle Styopa. He was a member of the Supreme Soviet, the nominal legislative governing physique of the U.S.S.R. Both of his sons became movie directors, their careers accelerated by the father’s excessive standing—having such a successfully-linked father may perhaps mean access to movie stock and studio space and tender passage by way of the convoluted bureaucracy of funding and censorship. But Andrei changed his last name to his mother’s maiden name, and, in 1980, left the Soviet Union and moved to Hollywood. It was the ultimate act of riot, if no longer betrayal, for a scion of a nomenklatura family.
Every Russian family has a anecdote remarkable of a gnarly Russian novel, no longer because Russians are so zigzag, but because twentieth-century Russian fear labored by slicing by way of all bonds. Every family has its victims and its executioners. Conversely, every anecdote of Russian historical past, together with “Dear Comrades!,” is a anecdote about families. The movie depicts occasions from 1962, when the southern Russian industrial city of Novocherkassk erupted in tell against the govt’s determination to raise client prices. Executive forces opened hearth on the protesters, killing extra than twenty-5 and wounding extra than eighty-5. Seven of us have been later performed, and extra than a hundred have been imprisoned, for allegedly inciting the protests.
The family at the middle of “Dear Comrades!” comprises three generations. Lyuda Syomina (Julia Vysotskaya) is a local party functionary in Novocherkassk. She lives with her grizzled father (Sergei Erlish), who seems to be never to leave the apartment, and her eighteen-year-extinct daughter, Svetka (Yulia Burova). Lyuda waxes nostalgic: if Stalin have been calm around, prices would be happening rather than up. When workers in the city paddle on strike, Lyuda calls for arrests and executions. But Svetka is among the protesters, and, in his housebound way, so is Lyuda’s father. As soon as he gets be aware of the protests, he extracts an extinct chest with the artifacts of his mature life: a Cossack uniform, an Orthodox icon, and some letters. He reads a letter out loud to his daughter:
They’ve killed Uncle Timofey, too. They’ve killed a bunch of of us.
They’ve thrown naked bodies onto carts any which way. Some of us’s
arms have been hanging all the way all the way down to the ground, and some of us’s
legs. Uncle Timofey’s leg was hitched up. Shameful.
I went to the college, but they advised me I don’t must get an
education from the Soviet govt because my father died combating
them. So I am going there rarely now, but I’m no longer too apprehensive about that,
because all they enact at college these days is propaganda and heresy. We
received a apartment search the advice of with from the activists, who took the last of the corn
and fined us on high. Mama says we are going to have to die of hunger,
because many of us already have, and no longer honest here, in Shumilinskaya,
but in all the places the place Cossacks have been living.
The letter is from his niece, Lyuda’s first cousin. By the time that the extinct man received it, she and her mother have been dead. This happened forty years earlier, when Lyuda was a baby; it’s family historical past she never knew.
In the latest, Svetka has disappeared. Lyuda appears to be like for her in each place: at a friend’s apartment, in the hospital, in the morgue. Finally, Viktor (Andrei Gusev), a senior Okay.G.B. officer, drives her exterior the besieged city to search for her daughter. They are searching for a girl who they presume has died protesting the choices of the party that Lyuda represents, at the hands of troops that Viktor and his colleagues command. They appear to search out Svetka’s burial place, a stranger’s untended grave to which her physique was added below conceal of darkness. As they pressure back, Lyuda asks, “How will I am going to her? Where is she? How will I am going to her?” Viktor responds, “You can’t be remembering. You can’t be talking about it. That’s why you signed a nondisclosure pledge.”
Soviet electorate have been ordered to obliterate their have memory. No longer like her father, Lyuda would have no letters to maintain, no words to conceal: as Konchalovsky shows, she already has no way of speaking about what she has seen, misplaced, and felt. Halfway by way of the movie, earlier than the graveyard scene, Lyuda, shell-skittish from what she has seen in the streets, is in her apartment. A Soviet movie called “The Spring” is on tv, specifically a musical quantity called “The Spring March.” Ladies folks in identical white dresses parade down a avenue, singing, “Comrade, comrade, / In labor and in battle, / Guard your fatherland / With total devotion.” The lyrics have been written by Sergei Mikhalkov.
When Viktor and Lyuda are driving back to the city, having made their gruesome discovery, she starts singing. “Comrade, comrade . . . ” she begins. She can’t get the tune out of her head. Viktor picks up the tune. They scream beautifully together. At this second, they cannot presumably imagine a be aware they are singing, but they have no other words. They return to a city that has literally paved over the bloody square the place dozens of of us have been killed and wounded. At house, Lyuda discovers that her daughter is alive—vexed, cornered, facing an apparently inevitable penitentiary sentence, but alive. Lyuda holds her daughter and reassures her desperately: “It’s all factual, baby, it’s all factual. We’ll transform higher. We’ll transform higher.” We all know she means it. We also know she means that she needs Stalin, or Stalinism, would return. The movie ends with “The Spring March.”
Novocherkassk was small sufficient, the uprising large sufficient, and the quantity of casualties excessive sufficient that the entire city must have been aware of what had happened. Peaceful, the Soviet regime succeeded in suppressing any public dialogue of the protests and the executions. I heard about them for the first time in the early nineteen-nineties. I was interviewing a younger gender-studies scholar in Moscow, and she proudly said that she hailed from Novocherkassk, the city the place the most fascinating anti-govt protests of the post-war era had happened. She had been a baby at the time of the protests, but she advised me about them, and the executions, in some detail. This anecdote stuck in my memory. Reading my colleague Anthony Lane’s overview of “Dear Comrades!,” I realized that the Novocherkassk protests are described in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s “The Gulag Archipelago,” which was published in 1973, and which I read prolonged earlier than that interview. But I had no mental map and no historical context to which to affix this information, so I didn’t commit it to memory.
Konchalovsky has said that he first heard about the Novocherkassk protests at the time they happened, from anyone who was working alongside him at Mosfilm. Then he went out keen and forgot about it for roughly thirty years. In the early nineteen-nineties, he read about the Novocherkassk occasions in the media. Years later, it happened to him to cast his wife, Vysotskaya, in a tragedy, and he remembered Novocherkassk again. Vysotskaya herself was born in Novocherkassk, extra than ten years after the protests. She went to college and became an actress in Belarus, the place, honest as “Dear Comrades!” was released, popular protests have been being beaten as brutally as they have been in Novocherkassk nearly sixty years ago.
Even now, when it’s doable to reveal the anecdote of the Novocherkassk protests, Konchalovsky chooses to reveal it from the level of plan of the nomenklatura. It’s an advantageous vantage level: as disoriented and skittish as Party leaders are shown to be in the movie, they knew extra than did ordinary protesters and onlookers. Konchalovsky has said that half the script was lifted from transcripts of Party conferences. It’s the other half—the private world of Lyuda’s family and the private fear of her search—that are imagined. Konchalovsky made the movie with the make stronger of Russia 1, one of Russia’s dominant state-controlled tv networks; his younger brother, the head of the cinematographers’ union and a member of the country’s Oscar-alternative committee; and the billionaire Alisher Usmanov, whose special mission is ensuring Putin’s domination over the information sphere. Cash and access proceed to accrue to the son of a state poet, and this, too, is a characteristic of family historical past and the historical past of Russia.