Crippling political oppression has never been more fun

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

The Death of Stalin
RPL Film Theatre

May 18–20

Wondering what would become of Armando Iannucci after leaving Veep? Look no further. The brain behind The Thick of It and In the Loop is back to mercilessly mock a new institution — the USSR’s Communist Party during the power struggle after Joseph Stalin’s death.

In The Death of Stalin, Iannucci goes a little further than usual. Sure, the movie is funny but it’s horrifying all the same. As depicted here, the race to succeed Stalin was bloody and the disturbing details aren’t spared.

Following the dictator’s demise, the person who’s best-positioned to replace the mustachioed mass murderer was Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale, Penny Dreadful), the chief of the secret police. Beria’s callous behaviour rubs the rest of the emergency administration the wrong way and soon a team of rivals (Krushchev, Molotov, Zhukov) targets him — although the task is more difficult than it should have been.

Iannucci’s scalpel-sharp dialogue and some brilliant slapstick make The Death of Stalin an unforgiving riot. Actors not known for laughs (Steve Buscemi, Jason Isaacs) demonstrate killer comic timing, and they’re supported by comedy specialists Jeffrey Tambor and Michael Palin. Everything about this movie works, particularly the depiction of Stalin’s inner circle as a frat house but with the extra fun of knowing one wrong word could put you in front of a firing squad.

Days before The Death of Stalin’s opening in Russia, Putin’s government came up with a cockamamie excuse to block the release. It’s as if Vlad doesn’t want his people to see a head of state wiping out political enemies with extreme prejudice for his own benefit. Go figure.