The idea of a director with the same style as Ken Loach but from Russia is not often mentioned. However, after watching Dear Comrades!, you’ll realise it’s the combination you’ve been waiting for.
Dear Comrades! is a Russian film set in the Soviet Union in 1962. After the government increases food prices, workers in an industrial neighbourhood go on strike. What follows is a tragic story of corruption and survival in a totalitarian regime.
What is immediately apparent about the film is how immersive it is. The film looks and feels like it was made in the 1960s. This is by no means an insult. It’s filmed completely in black and white and the aspect ratio is like that of an old TV set. Even though it’s filmed on an HD camera, Dear Comrades! revels in taking you back to 1960s Russia. All the costumes and scenery feel completely authentic, along with the added tanks to boot. A lot of time and attention clearly went into crafting this world. What’s more is that all the music is diegetic, making it feel like you’re not watching a film but in fact real life.
However, the film does slightly show it’s budget when guns are fired. In keeping with the aesthetic of a film made in the 1960s, people do just fall over when they get shot. There are not many squibs and when there are they don’t look very convincing. This is a shame but the scenes where shooting occurs are still impactful. Though it begs the question: the production managed to afford real-life tanks, but not blood squibs?
The protagonist of the film, Lyuda, is where the film really shines. She is a perfect character. Usually, the protagonist in a film like this would be a revolutionary but not Lyuda. Lyuda is a staunch Stalinist and is disappointed with the current government’s new policies. She thinks they’re not tough enough. She is very dismissive and cruel to her dissident daughter. One scene with her, in particular, stands out as they have a heated debate over politics. This scene will ring very familiar to people who have lived through the last decade’s political roller coasters.
Yuliya Vysotskaya, who plays Lduya, does a really great job. She is the clear standout performance of the film, she transports the audience through Lduya’s emotional journey with ease. If this film were made in America, Vysotskaya would definitely be getting Oscar rumours flying around her.
The acting isn’t all perfect though. Even though it’s harder to tell a bad performance in a foreign language, some actors do stand out as a bit wooden. This goes doubly for a lot of the extras. There are several scenes focused on crowds and there are some sloppy performances that make the crowd seem like the stadium audience in FIFA 09.
Dear Comrades! is certainly not a film for everyone. But if you have any interest in Soviet history, this film is a perfect simulation of life in those very troubled times.
Dir: Andrey Konchalovskiy
Scr: Andrey Konchalovskiy, Elena Kiseleva
Cast: Yuliya Vysotskaya, Vladislav Komarov, Andrey Gusev
Prd: Alisher Usmanov
DoP: Andrey Naydenov
Runtime: 121 mins
Dear Comrades! is in Cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema – 15th January