Khrustalyov, My Car! were allegedly the first three words spoken – by Lavrentiy Beria – in post-Stalinist Russia. Aleksei German’s magnificent film offers a view of the final days of Stalin’s regime that is far more chilling, irreverent, and mordantly funny than anything Armando Iannucci could dream up.
"...there are images here that you may never forget."
The film is seen through the eyes of the fictitious general Yuri Klensky, who is after years of weathering the storm, is arrested when there is a clampdown on Jews and doctors (even if it is never clear that Klensky is either). After months of torture, degradation and humiliation, he is called to Stalin’s dacha to administer to the dying despot.
With its novelistic detail, epic scope and audacious tonal shifts, the film bears comparison to Kafka’s The Trial, Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita and Kundera’s The Joke. But Khrustalyov, My Car! is first and foremost a work of cinema. Combining luminous black and white photography and complex long takes that recall Bela Tarr; the grotesque exuberance and non-stop movement of Fellini; the surreal visual wit of Bunuel; and another level of visual invention that anyone who has seen Hard to Be a God will know is unique to German, the film is an aesthetic marvel from start to finish. Indeed, there are images here that you may never forget.