July 2, 2019  (Web Review)

Khrustalyov, My Car!

Arrow, 150 min., in Russian w/English subtitles, not rated, Blu-ray: $49.99

Reviewer rating: 3.0/4

Filmmaker Aleksei German’s nightmarish 1998 black-and-white satire targets the paranoid social and political climate of Moscow in 1953 during Joseph Stalin’s final days, following the surreal ordeal of General Klensky (Yuriy Tsurilo), a high-ranking military surgeon who is arrested in an anti-Semitic campaign targeting Jewish doctors. Klensky’s family is relocated to an overcrowded rooming home (where everyone has their own toilet seat) while he is sent to a gulag (and is raped along the way) and then suddenly yanked back to Moscow to attend the dying Stalin. The doomed Klensky has been plucked to take the fall should Stalin die. Around Klensky’s story swirls the political chaos of the power vacuum left in the wake of Stalin’s death. The title of the film comes from the (likely apocryphal) final words attributed to Beria, head of the secret police after learning of Stalin’s death. It’s a challenging and dense film filled with unexpected narrative turns and oddball twists—at one point, Klensky meets his identical double—and is directed with a mix of dark humor, sharp political satire, documentary realism, and grotesque details. This violent, polarizing film was championed by Martin Scorsese at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival and is considered by many to be a contemporary masterpiece. Extras include audio commentary by film producer Daniel Bird, an interview with director German, a video essay by film critic Eugénie Zvonkine, an interview with scholar Jonathan Brent on Stalin’s anti-Semitic campaign, and a booklet. Recommended. (S. Axmaker)