Andrei Konchalovsky has one of the most eclectic resumés of any contemporary filmmaker, ranging from historical epics like Andrei Rublev and such homegrown classics as Uncle Vanya (costarring the great Soviet actor-director Sergei Bondarchuk) to a Sylvester Stallone vehicle (Tango & Cash) and Runaway Train, which might best be described as an existential action yarn. Dear Comrades! is one of his most impassioned films and arguably his best.
As a child of the Cold War I have vivid memories of the fearsome Premier Nikita Khrushchev and the stories I read about life in the U.S.S.R., where people had to battle crowds just to get a loaf of bread. Dear Comrades! recounts a notorious real-life incident from 1962 that was such a source of shame and embarrassment that it was covered up for thirty years.
Daily life in the town of Novocherkassk is fraught with anxiety. Over the course of two days we bear witness to a complete breakdown of society in microcosm as the Communist Party, the Army, and the KGB confront and undermine each other while trampling on the lowly citizens they are supposed to serve. How will a single mother like the one played by Yuliya Vysotskaya (Konchalovsky’s wife) raise her teenaged daughter and still fulfill her duties as an outspoken member of the Party? She remains blindly loyal in spite of a series of harrowing experiences.
By presenting his story in black & white, with a vintage 1:33 aspect ratio, the director instantly transports us back to the early 1960s. It quickly and efficiently establishes the milieu and principal characters. Every scene is permeated with a sense of urgency as the town falls victim to the warring factions that make up the U.S.S.R. Konchalovsky’s masterful staging of crowd scenes and chaotic violence makes every moment count. His use of sound—and silence—enhance the screenplay he wrote with Elena Kiseleva.
Dear Comrades! is a potent and timely drama that dares you to look away… except you can’t. It is Russia’s official entry for this year’s Academy Awards and is playing in theaters and available on Amazon Prime, Vudu, and Hulu.