Russia pulls 'despicable' Death of Stalin from cinemas

Acclaimed black comedy labelled ‘boring, repugnant and insulting’ after private viewing for culture ministry officials

Russia’s culture ministry has withdrawn permission for the release of Armando Iannucci’s black comedy The Death of Stalin, after officials and top arts figures labelled the movie offensive and extremist.

An advisory committee to the ministry had earlier recommended postponing the release to avoid it clashing with the 75th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Stalingrad, after officials and film directors attended a private viewing on Monday.

“The distribution certificate for the film The Death of Stalin has been withdrawn,” a culture ministry spokeswoman told Agence France-Presse. The film had been set for a limited release in cinemas from Thursday after local distributors Volga Film gained an 18+ certificate.

Yelena Drapeko, deputy head of the lower house of parliament’s culture committee, told RBK news she had “never seen anything so disgusting in my life”. “(The audience), me included, saw elements of extremism in the film,” she said.

Iannucci, the writer and director who made the political satires Veep and The Thick of It, said: “All the Russians we’ve shown the film to so far, including Russian press, have said how much they enjoyed and appreciated the film. They say two things: it’s funny, but it’s true. I’m still confident we can get it in cinemas.”

After the preview screening, 21 people signed a letter urging the culture minister, Vladimir Medinsky, to delay the release and check if the acclaimed film broke any Russian laws. The letter castigated the film for “lampooning the history of our country” and “blackening the memory of our citizens who conquered fascism”, the Tass news agency reported.

Nadezhda Usmanova, head of the Russian Military-Historical Society’s department of information, told Reuters that the film was “despicable”. “It’s a bad film, it’s a boring film, and it’s vile, repugnant and insulting,” Usmanova said.

Pavel Pozhigailo, a high-ranking culture committee member, said the film “insults our historic symbols – the Soviet anthem, orders and medals”. He also complained that Marshal Zhukov, the Soviet military commander, “is portrayed as a fool”.

Jason Isaacs as Marshal Zhukov in The Death of Stalin.
Jason Isaacs as Marshal Zhukov in The Death of Stalin. Photograph: Nicola Dove/EOne

Zhukov, whose statue stands near Red Square, is widely credited with orchestrating the defeat of Nazi Germany at the Battle of Stalingrad in 1943. The battle, in which over 1 million Soviet soldiers died, halted the Nazi advance and was a major turning point in the second world war.

Russia’s Communist party, the second largest party in parliament, has called the film, which revolves around the vicious infighting that followed Stalin’s death in 1953, “a form of psychological pressure against our country”.

The Death of Stalin, which picked up four British Independent Film awards last year, stars Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev, Stalin’s successor, and Michael Palin as Vyacheslav Molotov, the Soviet diplomat. Zhukov is played by Jason Isaacs.


Marc Bennetts in Moscow

The GuardianTramp

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