Thursday, December 24, 2020

Movie with Abe: Dear Comrades

Dear Comrades
Directed by Andrey Konchalovskiy
Release December 25, 2020 (Virtual Cinemas)

The will of the people is a powerful thing. In democracies, constituents feel that they can make their voices heard by exercising their freedoms of speech and to vote for the candidates they believe will best represent their views and ideals. In less open societies based on other political structures, there is a culture of cohesion and obedience meant to suppress any sense of individual expression that might threaten the order of things. Totalitarian regimes often end in rebellion, as those who have been kept at bay reach a point at which they are no longer willing to accept that treatment.

In 1962, the communist government in the Soviet Union increases food prices, which puts a further strain on the already-struggling populace. In the town of Novocherkassk, the workers at a plant go on strike. Lyuda (Yuliya Vysotskaya) is a member of the city committee and a firm believer in the communist way of life who witnesses the way in which the government responds with violence to quell the workers and bury any story of unrest. When she is unable to find her daughter, Lyuda becomes obsessed with finding her as she processes the horror of what she has seen happen.

This film is based on the Novocherkassk massacre, a horrifying event that claimed many lives and led to numerous arrests in the aftermath. Its content is presented in a stark format, playing out slowly and following characters as they walk from place to place. As a result, viewers only know as much of what’s going on as the person or people featured on screen, which in most cases is Lyuda, who is initially supportive of efforts to get the workers to comply and gradually begins to see the deeply problematic nature of the response that ensues.

This is Russia’s official Oscar submission for Best International Feature, telling an important chapter of the history of the country that preceded it. It’s far from a positive or enjoyable experience, but it does manage to frame disturbing content in a compelling way, forcing those watching to continue paying attention since there is nowhere else to go. Lyuda, strongly portrayed by Vysotskaya, serves as a stand-in for the audience, proposing sweeping policy solutions that in reality turn to something far more violent and authoritarian. It is a disturbing, grueling watch, but one that is equally powerful and hard to forget.


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