In 1939, Ivan (Hulce) is taken away at dead of night by the KGB. He is offered a job which only he can fill, and he is given the position of official projectionist to the Kremlin. His obsession with Stalin grows and he's privvy to both sides of the Russian dictatorship. Meanwhile, his new wife is being seduced by a mass-mudering secret police chief (Hoskins).
In 1939, Ivan (Hulce), a newly-married Muscovite, is taken away at dead of night by the KGB. Rather than face arrest and summary execution as he fears, it turns out that Stalin has a job vacancy which only he can fill, and he is given the position of official projectionist to the Kremlin, showing Big Joe all the suppressed American movies and Nazi newsreels banned everywhere else in the Soviet Union. As thrilled to be in the presence of his communist idols as any groupie backstage at a Rolling Stones gig, Ivan benefits from privileged access to food and other goodies, even though he still has to share an apartment with a boatload of other suffering Russians. However, while Ivan goes into semi-orgasmic catatonia any time someone mentions the name of Stalin, his wife (Davidovich) is seeing another side of the USSR as she tries to maintain a relationship with the institutionalised daughter of a disappeared neighbour and finally when her nice smile and low hairline attract the attention of the bearlike mass murdering secret police chief Lavrenti Beria (Hoskins).
Years pass, wars come, some people die, others go mad, snow falls, and two and a quarter hours of running time trudge by like an army marching on Moscow. A ground-breaking production, with emigre Konchalovsky returning to Russia to tackle a national nightmare on a par with America's neurosis about Vietnam, this is still pretty heavy-going. All of the players are at least potentially excellent, but the jumbling of Americans speaking with Boris Badonov accents with real Russians speaking duff English dialogue is distracting in the extreme, and too many quite effective moments - Hoskins's seduction of Davidovich especially - fall flat because of the silly voices.
Also, despite a cleverly underplayed monster performance from Russian Alexandre Zbruev as Stalin, it is hardly news to deliver the message that the dictator who killed millions of people and robbed his country blind was not exactly a nice guy. While there is an interesting theme in Ivan's Job-like insistence on swearing eternal loyalty to Stalin no matter how terrible things get, the plot tips over into giggly bathos as the film skips ten years after one too many tragedies so it can wind up with some spectacular crowd scenes at the Big Man's funeral. There are good moments, but on the whole this is one of those international co-productions that tries hard to get every uniform button and camera angle right but then falls down on script and casting.
There are good moments, but on the whole this is one of those international co-productions that tries hard to get every uniform button and camera angle right but then falls down on script and casting.