Khrustalyov, My Car!
directed by Aleskey German
starring Yuriy Tsurilo, Nina Ruslanova, Mikhail Dementyev
Arrow / MVD Visual
If ever I’ve seen a challenging film, this is it. Khrustalyov, My Car! is a very black comedy, shot in 1998, a decade after the Empire collapsed. It looks back to the relatively recent (1953) Doctors’ Plot. The detail of the doctor’s plot is complex, but it was a semi manufactured excuse by Stalin to purge the Party and lock up Jews, the universally hated ethnic group the Russian loves to hate. The story is told as a very black comedy, but not as a comedy that will bring many laughs to the un-initiated viewer. Our leader here is general Yuri Georgievich Klensky (Yuri Tsurilo), he maintains a state of drunkenness as the agents of Stalin bear down on him and arrest him. Imprisoned, he is unexpectedly taken to Stalin’s soon to be death bed but cannot save him. When Stalin passes, his head of secret police utters the film’s title, and we are done.
This is a complex and occasionally hard to follow. It’s Russian with subtitles, and one of the special feature tracks adds very helpful commentary. While there are wild exaggerations and bungling KGB agents, it’s not a “ha-ha” funny film, rather a sardonic look into a period of Russian history. Its view is unfiltered by Western tastes. The brutality is ever present, scenes in a bath house are explicit and show the mutilations war, and the exteriors all look like they were shot at 30 below.
What I can say is this: If you love Russian cinema, this is the advanced experts double secret probation film. If you are unfamiliar with the visual tricks, in-directions, and the details of Russian culture this is a poor starting point for the rich world of Russian cinema. But the commentary tracks are very helpful, and while I dreaded sitting through this film, it is worth the effort you will put into it. Watch it twice, and it might even draw a laugh or two out if you have a Russian Soul.