Stalin: Red God(U.K./Austria, 2001)
For festival information, call 931-FILM
For tickets, call (925) 275-9490
Frederick Baker's fascinating hourlong documentary records a Russia still in shock over Joseph Stalin's murderous one-man rule, some 50 years after the fact. "There was no appeal against whether he punished or pardoned you," says a 100-year-old cartoonist for Pravda, whose brother was killed on the dictator's order. "If God exists is uncertain, but we know that Stalin did exist and he was right there next to us." Baker's thesis is that a deified spirit of Stalin hovers over Russia even today, and while he finds scattered evidence for this idea in places like the Georgian's hometown, where children recite poetry in Stalin's memory and townspeople exhume old statues of him, the idea's more asserted than proved. Baker offers no systematic look at today's Russia. Even the stronger parts of his film -- the recollections of aged witnesses to Stalin's rule -- are weakened by his failure to identify them properly (the cartoonist's age is given in the press notes, but not in the film). A soundtrack made up of eerie ambient noise is annoying, and Baker's dramatic re-creations of incidents in the dictator's life are shaky. (His use of mute doubles of Stalin could be justified by Stalin's own fondness for films about himself, with ennobled actors playing him, but no Socialist Realist cinéaste ever used hand-held cameras!) Nonetheless, Stalin: Red God is essential viewing for anyone interested in the pathology of state terror; the Soviet Union under his rule was both charnel house and chapel. (Gregg Rickman)
Thursday, April 25, 5:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Sunday, April 28, 9:45 p.m., AMC Kabuki
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