Kotov is a hero of the Russian Revolution, who has settled into a new life in the country with his wife and daughter. However, when a visitor comes from Moscow, Stalin's new regime threatens their idyll.
1995's Oscar-winner for Best Foreign Film manages the considerable feat of combining arthouse political satire with the warm and hazy glow of a feelgood family drama.
Mikhalkov, a Russian Oliver Reed lookalike, both directs and stars as Serguei Kotov, a respected ex-military hero of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. By the summer of 1936, however, he's very much the family man, and we first meet him enjoying a cosy sauna with his much younger wife Maroussia and their cute-as-a-button six-year-old daughter Nadia (played by Mikhalkov's real-life daughter Nadia, who stole the show at the Oscars). However, all is not well in Stalin's brave new Soviet regime, and Kotov is soon playing host to the mysterious Dimitri (Menchikov), a young man who was Maroussia's lover ten years earlier.
Soon it emerges that he now works for Stalin's secret police and has arrived at the idyllic family setting with a specific and sinister agenda. It doesn't take the greatest of minds to suss out exactly what his orders are, and that Kotov's life is in great danger. Yet the leisurely journey towards his sinister fate is an engrossing one, if only for some superb ensemble acting and several touching set-pieces, such as one perfectly judged scene as Kotov and Dimitri compete for Nadia's attention with their tap-dancing skills.
Ultimately, the most telling moments are the simplest, as with the chilling finale of a car in the wheatfields, with a giant flag of Stalin's face overlooking, Big Brother style, in the distance. Such powerful imagery leaves an impression long after the story fades.
The superb ensemble acting and powerful imagery will linger in the mind longer than the leisurely paced plot