Dear Comrades!

 

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A dramatic confrontation provides an historic insight into the Russian state in the 1960s.

 
Dear Comrades!

  

Andrei Konchalovsky's film is a period piece but one which takes us back less than sixty years being set in 1962. This is Russia in the Khrushchev era and the story told here is a fiction but one rooted in an actual historical event in June of that year. This was when the authorities used violence to put down a strike by workers in a factory in Novocherkassk. It is a tale of suppression, initially by putting down the protesters suffering from reduced rates of pay and increased food prices. Then, when workers were shot dead, it became a case of trying to hide the facts with the KGB seeking to put the blame on the Red Army.

 

In recreating this situation for the screen, Konchalovsky has deliberately emphasised the period aspect by having the film shot in black and white and in the ratio associated with Soviet cinema of the past. His screenplay written with Elena Kiseleva has also created a personal story which unfolds during the course of these events. The central character on screen is a devout Communist, Lyuda Syomina (Julia Vysotskaya), a leading figure on the City Committee who still hankers after the days of Stalin. Not surprisingly her 18-year-old daughter, Svetka (Yuliya Burova), a girl employed in the factory in question, has a different attitude and sympathises with her fellow workers; less obviously Svetla's grandfather (Sergei Erlish) also questions Lyuda's outlook and in one sequence specifically refers to horrors perpetrated in 1922 during which a cousin of Lyuda's was a victim (this is a sign that Dear Comrades! is adopting a critical tone about more than one event in 20th century Russia).

 

Julia Vysotskaya provides a fine, strong presence in the central role and it is striking that Lyuda, whose belated disillusionment is a key theme here, is presented not as a villain but rather as a misguided and ultimately pathetic figure. Nevertheless, the pivot of the plot is Svetka's disappearance on the day of the protest and her mother's desperate search to find out if she is alive or dead. There is potential in that story, but the daughter is seen so briefly that for the viewer her fate counts for less than it should while Lyuda's political outlook is one that also limits our concern for her.  The period reconstruction is so well done that the emotional limitations do not matter at first, but at two hours this is a long film and its inability to arouse our deep sympathy does become a weakness.

 

Despite the violence of the story, Konchalovsky sometimes brings out the buffoonish element of bureaucratic incompetence although that can on occasion clash with the tragic nature of the situation. More seriously still, the tale ends in an unexpected way which unfortunately feels decidedly unconvincing. Dear Comrades! is a film that is wholehearted and capable of scenes that impress the viewer but ultimately the weaknesses that I have mentioned take their toll. Consequently, this piece is interesting but uneven.

 

Original title: Dorogie tovarishchi.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Julia Vysotskaya, Vladislav Komorov, Andrey Gusev, Yuliya Burova, Sergei Erlish, Alexander Maskelyne.

 

Dir Andrei Konchalovsky, Pro Alisher Usmanov, Screenplay Andrei Konchalovsky and Elena Kiseleva, Ph Andrey Naydenov, Pro Des Irina Ochina, Ed Karolina Maciejewska and Sergey Taraskin, Costumes Dmitry Andreev and Konstantin Mazur.

 

Production Company of Andrei Konchalovsky-Curzon.
120 mins. Russia. 2020. Rel: 15 January 2021. Available on Curzon Home Cinema. No Cert.