DEAR COMRADES! (Dorogie tovarishchi)
DEAR COMRADES! (Dorogie tovarishchi)
Director Andrei Konchalovsky
Cast: Julia Vysotskaya, Vladislav Komarov, Andrei Gusev, Yulia Burova and Sergei Erlish
Synopsis: 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.
Veteran Russian filmmaker, theatre director, and screenwriter, Andrei Konchalovsky, [Runaway Train (1985)] delivers an award-winning masterpiece. Dear Comrades! is a riveting account of a little-known event in Soviet history – a tragic historical drama based on the events of the 1962 Novocherkassk workers’ strike and massacre.
Novocherkassk was primarily known as the historical capital of the Don Cossacks until, in 1962, a workers’ strike turned ugly and violent, with tragic consequences. Konchalovsky expresses all his rage as he recounts the day that a strike was transformed into a massacre. The film’s cinematography is cold and clinical, almost documentary in style, using black and white film and the 4:3 screen format specific to the Mosfilm studios in the years when the events took place. This renders the action with a stark clarity.
When the government raised food prices in 1962, and the rebellious workers from the industrial town of Novocherkassk went on strike, the subsequent massacre in this film is seen through the eyes of Lyuda, a devout party activist.
Lyuda [Yuliya Vysotskaya, award-winning actress-wife of Konchalovsky, who frequently appears in his films, as well as being a television presenter and cookery book author) is a Communist party official and single mother who lives in a small flat in Novocherkassk with her 18-year-old daughter Svetka (Yuliya Burova) and her elderly, disabled, alcoholic father (Sergei Erlish). There are terrible food shortages, yet Lyuda is a loyal and uncomplaining party member, with privileged access to provisions. She not so secretly pines for the good old days of Josef Stalin, when the Soviet Union was bathed in glorious wartime victories and when things seemed to be better in every way. Now she is having an underhand affair with a cynical and unpleasant married committee official.
Lyuda served as a battlefield nurse during the Second World War, and so retains a nostalgic devotion to the past Stalinist ideals in the current age of Khrushchev. “What am I supposed to believe in if not communism?” she asks, as her political devotions are challenged in the fallout of the factory strike and protest, to which the army and/or KGB respond with deadly force. As the authorities rush to cover up this state-sponsored atrocity, Lyuda desperately searches for her missing teenage daughter, Svetka, a factory worker, whose life she fears for in the wake of the terrible violence. A gaping rift opens in her worldview, which had initially condemned all rebellion. Despite the blockade of the city, mass arrests and burials, and the authorities’ attempts to cover up the massacre, Lyuda’s search becomes more desperate.
Dear Comrades! is a haunting account of a dark episode of totalitarian repression in the Soviet era, but it is a film which is relevant today.
The confusion of values and the gap between ideals and reality dominate the film. In order to achieve their ambitious economic plans, the Soviet leaders subjected the population to severe economic shortages and any attempt at revolt was suppressed, if necessary by force. Confusion reigned among the population. “In Stalin’s time, prices were falling, now they are rising,” was a common complaint of the Soviet citizens in the Don area – where the film’s action takes place. Young people and workers naively believed in the apparent democratisation and in the rights enshrined in the Constitution. But when they claim them and resort to strikes and demonstrations to protest about economic problems, the response of the party is to mobilise its tools of repression – bullets and arrests.
This film challenges the ideological dilemmas and gaps that dominate the relations between generations, whereby truth cannot be spoken even between parents and children within the walls of their own homes.
The cumulative effect of Dear Comrades! is immediate and overwhelming, combining vivid action with intelligent debate and ideas. Deservedly winning the Jury Prize at the 2020 Venice Film Festival, ‘Dear Comrades!’ is one of the most impressive and important films of the year.
Streaming on Curzon Home Cinema
Images courtesy of courtesy of Curzon Artificial Eye