Iannucci’s new film is, as I understand it, a bit of a left turn for him: it’s an adaptation of a graphic novel based upon the real event of the title. Though I had no such fears, one could be understandably trepidacious about Iannucci turning his satirical eye to something historically accurate.
And I must say that the film gets off to a bit of a slow start, if my memories of In the Loop are anything to go by. The pacing up to the titular death is a little slow, though that may be deliberate.
But once Stalin is, in fact, dead, things take off at rather break-neck speed and the gag-a-moment pace I was expecting kicks in. In this film, the humour is not just rooted in the incompetence of the Politburo and the gladhanding and ass-kissing of their subordinates, but in the paranoia of the Soviet Union of the early 1950s. It is quite effective in addition to be funny, which is a fine line to walk. A lesser comic filmmaker might have gone just with the jokes and not focused on all the mental and verbal trickery necessary to survive.
There is also an undercurrent of awfulness that we the viewers don’t know what to do with until it explodes in our faces in the climax of the film. This balance between comedy and tragedy is tough to maintain but the flim maintains it prior to and then after the historical event that is the climax of the film, which is not at all funny and kind of terrifying. The tension that builds up to this point, with humour somehow, is pretty remarkable given that we the audience know the outcome.
I really enjoyed this a lot, on multiple levels, and I will be very pleasantly surprised if I see a better movie at TIFF this year.