How is it possible to laugh about a murderer who killed between three million and 60 million of his own people? (The most quoted figure is 20 million.) The movie is about his death. The Russian people sobbed when they learned he was dead! Stalin!
Well, is he or isn't he? Only a "good" doctor knows for sure, but since Stalin had them all snuffed out (to combat a conspiracy) none were left to treat the dictator save the "bad" ones. From The Death of Stalin/Photo by Madman
Recognizing Steve Buscemi (who plays a slim then Khrushchev in Death) from Fargo 22 years ago made my heart leap, anticipating I would laugh even more. I did.
Soviet leaders follow Stalin's coffin. Photo by Baltermants and Gostev - Published Ogoniok issue 11 (1344) dated Mar 13 1953., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org. On the far right is Nikita Khrushchev and third from right is (I think) Lavrentiy Beria, Stalin's top secret police chief and a major role in the film, acted by Simon Russell Beale.
Just a wee bit of knowledge about the assassin's life and rule in Russia is enough to set you on track to enjoy a good time with Russian leaders while they scramble to beat up their comrades and stab each other in the backs on their marches to replace Joseph Stalin (1878-1953) after he died. (Russia's official "rules" of succession and directions for a state funeral are often screened in the film to keep viewers abreast about the order of things.)
Writer/director Armando Iannucci (the Scottish creator of the HBO series, Veep) promises half the film is true, which includes but is not limited to, the opening concert scene, the deaths of hundreds of Russians (the film says 1,500) crushed by the mobs coming to pay last respects, the tomato in the pocket, Stalin's irrational son, Vasily, the suicide of Stalin's wife, his death (after his stroke, he lay for hours in a pool of his own urine because no one had the courage to approach him), and his affinity for late night movies.
Whatever truth there is, it's a hoot and a riot with terrific music by Chris Willis to match the mood (compositions by Mozart, Chopin, and Tchaikovsky). All throughout I kept wondering where the movie was filmed (does Russia allow movie locations?) which, based on the credits, I presume was shot in London and Belgium. This story confirms London and some "secret screens" in Moscow. (как интересно.)
That the writers have brilliantly utilized facts and exaggerated them with slap stick, happening "behind the scenes" (tragic, in many cases) is testament to their originality, creativeness, and insight into what makes a great laugh out loud movie.
The Russian have banned the film, but with the election over and the victor declared (!), perhaps the government will relent and permit this one to screen so the people can scream (but would they consider it sacrilege?).
I liked Death of Stalin before I bought the popcorn. Before I ever entered the movie house, I liked it and knew I was in for a good laugh, something we don't get enough of these days. Said Director Iannucci in an interview in The Atlantic after some suggested a similarity between Trump and Stalin:
"Stalin called anyone who disagreed with him an enemy of the people. Trump calls them unpatriotic and false. With people like Berlusconi and indeed Putin, and Erdoğan in Turkey—these “strongmen,” as it were—it feels a little bit like the 1930s again.
"Trump’s instinct is to call for jailing of opponents. If Saturday Night Live does an impression of him, he starts calling for NBC’s license to be looked into. For someone who is head of a party that’s all about government backing off, he’s very much for telling people what to think, what to watch, who shouldn’t be speaking out—he’s very authoritarian. The rule of law is his law."
P.S. The F bomb drops about every 30 seconds.