NYCC `17: DEATH OF STALIN Finds Laughs In Cold War Tyranny

One doesn’t generally expect a history lesson on Soviet-era political machinations at New York Comic Con. But then again, IFC’s upcoming film The Death Of Stalin is based on the graphic novel by French writer Fabien Nury and artist Thierry Robin, and with the director being The Thick Of It and Veep creator Armando Iannucci, it also looks to be wickedly funny.

At least that’s the impression given by the scene screened at the panel for The Death Of Stalin last evening at New York Comic Con.

In the clip, several members of Stalin’s inner circle – in the form of Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambor, Michael Palin amongst others – are summoned when the Soviet ruler is found incapacitated on his bedroom floor. However, with Stalin having been the final word on anything that needed to be decided, they found themselves unable to come up with any course of action to help him. As they try to figure out if they should call a doctor or even just move him to his bed, rivalries quickly come out and they are soon bickering and plotting against each other, trying to turn the situation to their advantage.

Interestingly, Nury stated that he didn’t start out to tell the story as a satire but as more of a political thriller. But as he immersed himself in his research, he found that the events were just too absurd to not play for laughs.

“And I was ashamed of myself,” he admitted. “It’s so gruesome. It’s a tragedy.”

To illustrate his point, he relates a story of how Stalin was listening to an orchestra concert on the radio, and so moved by the music, he asked for a record of the performance. When some underlings were told that it had only been broadcast live and no recording had been made of the concert, the musicians were summoned back to the concert hall to recreate the broadcast. But trouble with the conductor leaves the lackeys scouring Moscow for a replacement, and then renewing that search when the first replacement conductor presents their own problem.

Nury went on to explain how much of the political chaos in the aftermath of Stalin’s death was so ridiculous he had to actually dial it back a bit to be at least somewhat believable, dropping one of conductor searches out of his story.

“I didn’t invent a thing,” he stated. “I actually had to remove things that were so crazy.”

But even the soft-peddling must have touched a nerve as the current Russian government. Although the film already has distribution in the former Soviet Union, the government there is reportedly considering a ban of the film when it is released next year. Nury stated he found it funny that even after six decades there were those who were still trying to protect the honor of the former Soviet leader. “Now it becomes maybe not so funny,” he said before referencing some recent headlines about others who have criticized the current Russian administration, “[Maybe] I will be poisoned with polonium next.”

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About Rich Drees 7021 Articles
A film fan since he first saw that Rebel Blockade Runner fleeing the massive Imperial Star Destroyer at the tender age of 8 and a veteran freelance journalist with twenty-five years experience writing about film and pop culture. He is a member of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle.
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