Sundance Spotlight film Armando Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin brings laughs, not authenticity

Written by: Jaime Winston

The Death of Stalin sidesteps dark comedy to gallows humor for a satirical look at dictator Joseph Stalin’s final days and the power struggle following his death. While writer/director Armando Iannucci’s film offers some witty dialogue, the film, unfortunately, doesn’t include many actors who can make it feel more authentic.

Based on comic books by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin, the film attempts to play up paranoia felt in Soviet Russia during the ‘50s, where dissenters were imprisoned or worse, to comedic effect. While broadcasting a performance of Mozart, Radio Moscow receives a call from Stalin, who demands a recording of the show. Realizing it had ended without being recorded, the station head insists that the performance start over again—even bringing people in from the street to applaud the performers—to avoid angering the oppressive regime. Soviet statesman Nikita Khruschev (Steve Buscemi) keeps a list of his jokes that Stalin liked, so he won’t repeat the ones that didn’t get a laugh. Upon Stalin’s death, Khruschev and NKVD head Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale) begin using their political sway to one up one another, even trying to gain the favor of Stalin’s daughter, as pushover Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor) becomes the new Soviet Union leader (check the historical accuracy here).

Aside from Ukrainian-born Olga Kurylenko, who plays pianist/dissenter Maria Yudina, the main cast is American and British. With Iannucci’s Academy Award, five BAFTA awards and 17 Emmys, it’s hard to imagine he wouldn’t be able to recruit more actors from former Soviet countries to portray characters from their own history and give his film a more genuine feel.

Luckily, we do get witty dialogue and a handful of funny scenes … you know, if you can actually find anything funny about Stalinism.

Upcoming screenings:

Saturday, Jan. 20, 5:45 p.m., The MARC, Park City

Saturday, Jan. 27, 11:30 p.m., Prospector, Park City

Buy tickets

For more film reviews, red carpet pics and details on the happens of Sundance 2018, click here.

Ashley Szanter
Ashley Szanter
Ashley Szanter is a contributing writer for Salt Lake magazine as well as a freelance writer and editor. She loves writing about everything Utah, but has a special interest in Northern Utah (here's looking at you, Ogden and Logan).
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