Dear Comrades! (Dorogie tovarishchi) (2020)

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In carefully composed black and white imagery, we watch the Soviet propaganda machine go into overdrive to cover up 1960s labour strikes and a subsequent, ill-advised massacre.

The layers of bureaucracy are suffocating as we watch Community Party executive and ardent believer, Lyudmila (Yuliya Vysotskaya), advocate for a tough response when factory workers threaten to strike. They are not the only unhappy ones, with neighbours and friends complaining of food prices rising and pay rates being cut. In public, Lyudmila won’t hear a word said against the regime – after all she doesn’t have to queue for food rations – but in private she misses Stalin when “you knew who the enemy was.”

When the workers storm the factory offices, shots ring out and scores of people die, although the army have been told not to fire on the crowd. In the resulting frantic cover-up, which is denial on a monumental scale – when the blood can’t be washed from the asphalt of the square, they resurface it – Lyudmila realises her daughter Svetka (Yuliya Borova) is missing. Faced, at last, with personal suffering, her belief in the socialist ideal slowly crumbles.

Director Andrey Konchalovskiy, a former collaborator of auteur Andrei Tarkovsky, makes the most of the black and white frame to instill an odd beauty in a harsh world. Even though the red of blood can’t be seen, there is no doubt as to the impact and brutality of the massacre as he focuses on the small, personal moments of chaos and loss. Sometimes the layers and layers of reports, meetings and interrogations drag on but it does imbue veracity to the experience of those scrabbling for power (or accepting their fate).

It was interesting watching this after New Order (2020), which seeks to reimagine the brutality of totalitarian regimes oppressing the people. Konchalovskiy approaches a similar premise with equal amounts of cynicism but much more heart.

Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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