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So far, my assessment is that Iannucci cannot go wrong. Someone who wrote “The Thick of It” has a lot of credit in my books, and I will always look with great affection of positive spirit at what he is doing next. “The Death of Stalin” needs that credit, because there are some items where I had to swallow a “WTF?!” and hold back with my skepticism for a bit longer. And, yes, it pays off. Having the story of a mass murderer and his fate, and the flock of accomplices around him, as the setting for a comedy is a bold starting point. Once you accept that notion, the film does not hold back on the atrocities committed by this system, the system of mortal fear and arbitrary danger that was imposed as a policy instrument.

This is very very bold, I have to say. While thinking about whether it is an act of genius or utterly misjudged, I started laughing. Then I wondered whether I should have. And continued laughing (or gasp-laughing, if that’s a thing). My judgement would be: yes, you can do this. It is in line with a tradition of British comedy that knows little boundaries and tries to find the next threshold to step over. It is a tradition that owes a lot to Monty Python’s: the organ donation in “Meaning of Life” was legitimately funny? Then the same applies to the Central Party Committee wading in Stalin’s pee or Jason Isaac’s comment on the execution of a prisoner (“well that’s done then”, if I remember correctly). On procedural issues: The choice of having an all-English language cast chattering along in their native language (be it English or American) is irritating for a second, and then you swallow it, as it allows for those great comedic actors lined up to do their thing (I do not fancy the idea of everybody speaking English with Russian accents, and having a subtitled comedy might take off the edge a bit, no?). Simon Russell Beale as the Shakespearean / Machiavellian Beria in particular, and Jeffrey Tambor as limp leader Malenkov made my day, Steve Buscemi holds it together with his Steve Buscemi thing, Michael Palin is given some nice dialogue with his dog.

As with the all comedy based on violence and “poor” taste, I feel hesitant to just be enthusiastic about the film, but in the end, I am. After all, the violence may be more physical than the one exerted by Malcolm Tucker, but Iannucci has found a way of walking the balance to make another comedy purely based on incompetence and villainy. Kudos!


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