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'Dear Comrades' captures Soviet-era massacre

Boston Herald - 2/5/2021

Feb. 5—"Dear Comrades!"

Not Rated. In Russian with subtitles. On Amazon, Hulu, Apple TV, Google Play and more.

Grade: A minus

From award-winning director Andrei Konchalovsky comes another tale of a mother searching for her child amid the chaos and savagery of political upheaval. In this case, the film, the Russian selection for the Academy Award, is based on the true story of a massacre of civilians by the Soviet Army and the KGB in 1962 Novocherkassk, Russia. Lyuda (Yuliya Vysotskaya) is leaving her married lover's bed as the film opens. She is a single mother, a combat veteran of WWII and an official with the Communist party in Novochersassk in southeastern Russia. The city is experiencing shortages of food at local shops. Shelves are emptied in the early mornings. The workers have organized a strike at the Electric Locomotive Factory, where Lyuda's grown daughter Svetka (Luyiya Burova) works, because of demands for greater production and increases in food prices. On the morning of the massacre, Lyuda sends rebellious Svetka off to work in her blue ribbons and a sock with a hole in it. Later, that afternoon, Lyuda is trapped at the plant with her coworkers when thousands of strikers flood the square in front of the factory's gates. It is then that higher-ups, including Nikita Krushchev give the orders to fire upon the strikers, orders that are against the law according to the Soviet Constitution.

In the aftermath of the killings, the attempt to cover them up begins. The wounded and other participants are arrested. Many are forced to sign "pledges of secrecy." The city is cut off from the rest of the world by road blocks. Lyuda lives in a flat with Svetka and her grandfather. He dusts off his old army uniform and medals and proceeds to get drunk and reminisce about atrocities committed among the Cossacks of the Don region. Lyuda eventually teams up with a handsome KGB officer named Loginov (Vladislav Komarov) in order to find a cemetery in a nearby town where bodies were taken and secretly buried. Throughout it all, Lyuda is relentlessly determined to find Svetka, even as the hopes of finding her alive dim.

Shooting in black-and-white in a square ratio, Konchalovsky evokes the late postwar period. The Soviet Union is recovering from the ravages of war and the purges, famines and atrocities of Stalin's rule. The setting is five years after the launch of Sputnik and dawn of the Space Age. Tribal hostility and the weight of history conspire to tear apart the Soviet Union. Vysotskaya is sublime as the battle-hardened mother desperate to find her young, headstrong daughter. Like Mercedes Hernandez in Fernanda Valadez's current release "Identifying Features," Lyuda will not be stopped in her quest, whatever the outcome. When a pessimistic Lyuda sings a patriotic song with Loginov while they drive and drink in search of Svetka, it is the most corrosive display of cynicism and irony you may ever see.

("Dear Comrades!" contains gun violence and mature themes)


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