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Gripping drama Dear Comrades! revisits Soviet massacre

Andrei Konchalovsky’s suffocatingly real film follows a mother caught in the political machine

22 January, 2021 — By Dan Carrier

A tremendous piece of storytelling – Dear Comrades!

DEAR COMRADES!
Directed by Andrei Konchalovsky
Certificate: 15
☆☆☆☆

THE Novocherkassk massacre, a mass murder of protesting factory workers by the KGB, is a horrific example of political terror used to subjugate a population.

It was June 1962 when locomotive factory employees went on strike over government demands that their production quota be increased, while food prices rose and shortages were even harder than usual.

Director Andrei Konchalovsky uses this historic tragedy as a starting point for a gripping personal drama that looks at the daily contradictions facing those living under a dictatorship.

We meet Lyuda (Yuliya Vysotskaya), a woman of standing in the political machine in the town of Novocherkassk.

Six years have passed since Nikita Khrushchev made a devastating public denunciation of Stalin, but for many, decades of indoctrination are hard to shake off.

Lyuda, a war hero who served as a nurse on the front lines during the Second World War, has remained loyal to her warped vision of what Stalin represented.

However, her abstract political beliefs bear little relation to the real world she experiences.

She is introduced as she uses her party card to muscle through a scrum of hungry shoppers besieging a store.

She is taken quietly into a back room to be served. Her bulging shopping bag offers a stark contrast to those fighting over salt and matches at the regular counters.

This hidden economy undermined the social contract within the Soviet society and was a telling sign of dislocation.

While Lyuda benefits from these perks, it also shows the cracks in the foundations of her faith in a system she is invested in.

Dealing with the Novocherkassk factory strike is the responsibility of a committee Lyuda is a member of, and when the workers march on the civic hall, Lyuda and her colleagues are forced to shelter in the basement until the KGB rescue them.

That night, Lyuda and her daughter Svetka (Yulia Burova) argue: Lyuda warns Svetka she mustn’t go to the protests the following day, but her frantic pleadings fall on deaf ears. When KGB snipers open fire and Svetka disappears, Lyuda embarks on a desperate quest to find out what happened to her daughter.

Lyuda’s transformation from a stoney-faced true believer to grieving parent is at its heart, and how the hurdles she faces to find out what happened to her daughter gives her an insight into how those outside the party, must live.

Lyuda’s narrative allows this historic incident to be interpreted on a human level. Fear seeps out from every character – the lack of trust between citizens, generated by a totalitarian state, haunts each scene.

Konchalovsky has created a film that is suffocatingly real. A tremendous piece of storytelling.

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