Yesterday Andrei Konchalovsky‘s Dear Comrades (Dorohgie Tovarischi) won the Venice Film Festival’s Special Jury Prize. With Chloe Zhao‘s Nomadland and Michael Franco‘s New Order taking the Golden and Silver Lion prizes, Konchalovsky’s film, an emotionally intense capturing of the 1962 Novocherkassk massacre, basically came in third.
I didn’t see Franco’s film, but it my humble view the Konchalovsky is even-steven with the Zhao. It’s really quite stunning in its own severe but ravishing fashion, captured in bracing black-and-white and pushed along by the engine of Julia_Vysotskaya‘s lead performance, which is fierce and blistering.
This infamous atrocity, which happened under the reign of Nikita Kruschev, was about the Russian military murdering 26 Russian citizens and the wounding 87 others in an effort to discourage angry protests over increased work quotas and food prices.
The 83 year-old Konchalovsky tells the story of this massacre through the eyes of Vysotskaya’s Lyuda Syomina, a prominent communist official and true believer whose loyalties are suddenly divided when daughter Svetka (Yuliya Burova) joins the strike and then turns up missing. Naturally she freaks out and does everything she can to find out what happened.
As it turns out the most critical ally in Lyuda’s search for her daughter is not her boyfriend (Vladislav Komarov) or father (Sergei Erlish) but a low-key, taciturn KGB agent named Viktor (Andrey Gusev) who drives her around and helps sidestep some of the bureaucratic red tape, partly, it seems, because he has the mild hots for her. To describe Viktor as an unusual KGB agent is an understatement. “Ambiguous” comes to mind.
I can only emphasize how fully and completely Dear Comrades grabbed me by the throat. With a couple of minutes I was sitting up in my seat, 100% certain that I was about to see one of 2020’s finest films. I just knew. Two hours later this was confirmed.
Vysotskaya, who was actually born in Novocherkassk in ’73 (one year earlier than Tatiana), is Konchalovsky’s fifth wife. They were married 22 years ago and have two sons.
The idea behind Andrey Naydenov‘s boxy monochrome capturings was to “scrupulously” reproduce 1960s Russia, or more precisely the atmosphere of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics under Nikita Krsuschev.
Tatiana: “Dear Comrades is a beautiful representation of the contrast between three generations of Russians.
“Lyuda’s daughter belongs to a younger generation, born right after WWII in the USSR and raised with certain beliefs and ideas in a happy socialistic future and democracy but also believing you have to raise your voice and fight for justice.
“Lyuda represents a generation born after the Revolution in 1917, and who witnessed Stalin’s rule and believed in that kind of strong dictatorial power. She mentions several times, ‘If Stalin is here, he would enforce order immediately.’
“And the grandfather represents an older generation who experienced the Tsar, Lenin, Stalin, Khruschev. He’s the only one who truly believes in God. The scene when he takes out a very powerful Russian icon out of the chest is absolutely fascinating.”
Konchalovsky #1: “I think the postwar Soviet people, the ones who fought in World War II until victory, deserve to have a movie that pays tribute to their purity. They were very Sovietic in a good sense. And yet the tragic dissonance when they realized how different communist ideals were from the reality around them” comprise the “film’s three strings — love, tears and horror.”
Konchalovsky #2: “The Russian experiment” with Communism may have failed but “greed was controlled by the state and I think it’s very important that the next society is going to be a society also going to control and suppress greed. And that’s basically socialism.”
“Greed was controlled [by Stalin]. I wanted you to be disturbed because every great leader in history made a massacre. Think about Napoleon. That is a tragic contradiction of history, another of the great ambivalences of world. A lot of communists were very pure, very idealistic, with no idea how it could turn out.”
Vysotskaya: “Most of them believed they were creating something very special, something good for mankind. Even those in top level government had only one coat. It tells you something about their spirit. From the 1917 revolution, when 90 percent of the population couldn’t read, to the 1950s and 1960s when they were — and still are — reading more than any nation in Europe.”