When the communist government raises food prices in 1962, the rebellious workers from the small industrial town of Novocherkassk go on strike. The massacre which then ensues is seen through the eyes of a devout party activist.
‘Dear Comrades!’, Russia’s entry for ‘Best International Feature Film’ at the Oscars, is an engrossing historical drama about worker protests that led to the Novocherkassk massacre, an event little known to many outside of Russia or the former Soviet Union. The events of the film take place in 1962, post-Stalin but still deep in the midst of the communist regime, and it broadly splits its timeline in two. The first half centres on life in this Russia for your average worker and the lead up to the massacre before switching to one woman’s search for her missing daughter in the second half. Both parts go a long way to explaining how the worker protests began, and how the bureaucracy and unwillingness of the authorities to address the root causes ultimately hastened the demise of the Soviet Union.
One thing that struck me was how similar ‘Dear Comrades!’ was to the superb miniseries ‘Chernobyl, both in the initial circumstances that can lead to disaster, then the attempts to cover up ‘for the greater good’. It’s shot in monochrome black and white by cinematographer Andrey Naydenov, and it feels wholly appropriate for the period and the setting – these people lived a grey, miserable existence, and the filmmaking style really enhances that. It also makes the rare moments of hope more powerful, such as a scene with newborn puppies acting as a moment of beauty in a grey world. Lyuda (Julia Vysotskaya) is a party worker and committed communist when the film begins, but as she experiences the state machinery working against her on a personal level, her disillusionment grows and she is forced to confront the rotten core at the heart of the ideology.
The direction from Andrei Konchalovsky has a righteous fury and passion about it that makes it all the more effective, and I thought Lyuda’s dilemma between the beliefs she has held all her life and the reality of what that means in practice was well played out. ‘Dear Comrades!’ is a very good movie about a dark chapter in Soviet history, with a lot to say about the impact communism has on a society, both at a societal and at an individual level.
Directed By: Andrei Konchalovsky
Starring: Julia Vysotskaya, Sergei Erlish, Yuliya Burova, Vladislav Komarov and Andrey Gusev