Thursday, May 14, 2009


Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Russian Documentary Paints Chilling Portrait of Life behind the Iron Curtain

If you’re wondering what life was like behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War, you might want to check out Revue, a revealing documentary directed by Sergei Loznitsa. You may remember Mr. Loznitsa for his brilliant film Blockade which completely reconstructed the 900-day Battle of Leningrad WWII from silent archival footage augmented by modern sound effects.
His new picture paints a chilling portrait of the U.S.S.R. simply by stringing together a motley mix of Communist propaganda from the Fifties and Sixties. The politically-tinged materials range from fiery speeches by Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschev to farm reports to stage plays to television shows to patriotic pledges by everyday citizens.
One of the movie’sfunniest moments involves a man-on-the street interview with a steelworker pledging to produce an extra 80 tons by Election Day, since I didn’t think they even bothered to hold any over there. But there’s even a subsequent scene of folks filing in and casting their ballots, followed by an announcement that the Communist Party won by a landslide. Why am I not surprised?
Equally-amusing are a clip of a choir harmonizing about plowing and planting, another of a comrade narrating a poem extolling the virtues of mass production, and one of a radio program dedicated to the announcement of train deliveries. Guess those rumors about shortages and bread lines during the Cold war were true.
Despite all of the anti-Western indoctrination, Soviet entertainment seems to have been somewhat influenced by America. For instance, there’s a TV show that looks like Lawrence Welk featuring a singing group of blonde siblings who may as well have called themselves the Lennon Sisters, or should I say, the Lenin Sisters. How about a show of hand puppets dressed like a rock band who whirl like dervishes to Chubber Checker’s “Let’s Twist Again.”
However, Sergei saw fit to include plenty of traditional cultural flourishes, such as a segment in which Russian men do that squat dance where they fold their arms and kick their legs out a lot. What’s most fascinating is how the totalitarian government managed to control every aspect of the media, making a concerted effort to deliver the same message throughout the nation. It essentially amounted to, “If we work harder we’ll have enough food for all” and to “destroy capitalism.”
Yeah, right.

Very Good (3 stars)
In Russian with subtitles.
Running time: 72 minutes
Distributor: Icarus Films

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