November 26, 2018  (Web Review)

The Red Soul

(2017) 90 min. In Russian w/English subtitles. DVD: $398. Icarus Films (www.icarusfilms.com). PPR.

Reviewer rating: 3.0/4

Filmmaker Jessica Gorter’s elegantly shot and intellectually probing documentary explores the deep divisions in Putin-era Russian society by contrasting the very different views of Josef Stalin that are held today by ordinary citizens. Two sisters visit the graves of their parents, who were arrested by security forces and executed, while others are seen searching vast forests in an attempt to locate the sites of mass burials from the Stalin era. On the other hand, old Red Army veterans reunite to celebrate the man who led them in the Great Patriotic War, and a forthright apologist argues that under Stalin’s rule the people were honest and treated one another as brothers and sisters, as opposed to today, when materialist decadence is Westernizing—and destroying—the country (the fact that this man lost his son to drugs may help explain his disillusionment). Teens at a politically-oriented youth camp praise Putin’s autocratic approach, but another student sheepishly admits in class that his family members are reluctant to talk about the Stalin era because they once served as guards at a detention camp. While this is obviously an impressionistic and unscientific sampling of contemporary Russian attitudes, the willingness of so many to see as a great national leader a man who is widely reviled as one of the 20th century’s most brutal dictators ultimately points towards a yearning that goes beyond mere nostalgia. Recommended. Aud: C, P. (F. Swietek)