Khrustalyov, My Car! (1998) – Film Review
Director: Aleksey German
Cast: Yuriy Tsurilo, Nina Ruslanova, Mikhail Dementyev
by Sarah Morgan
One of the best things about being a reviewer is that every now and then, you’re confronted by something completely different, the like of which you’ve never seen before. Sometimes it introduces you to a new interest, but conversely, you can end up wishing you’d never agreed to watch it in the first place.
Sadly, Khrustalyov, My Car! falls into the latter category. I agreed to take a look at it because none other than Martin Scorsese championed the movie on its release in 1998 during his stint as president of the Cannes film festival jury. As everyone who knows about Scorsese is aware, he’s a film addict who watches as much as he possibly can, so if he’s taken by something, you can usually bet it’s worth a look.
In my opinion, Marty made a mistake this time. The film looks great thanks to its sparkling black and white cinematography; it even manages to appear as if it was made in the 1950s, during the time it was set. But the overdubbed soundtrack is distracting and the story is complicated and almost impossible to follow, with characters it’s difficult to find any sympathy for.
It’s winter 1953 and millions of people’s fate lies in the hands of Stalin. Military surgeon Klensky is targeted by those behind a plot to discredit Jewish doctors in Moscow by claiming they are plotting to overthrow the Soviet elite.
Klensky descends into a nightmare, culminating in a genuinely chilling male rape. However, fortunes look set to change when Stalin himself needs medical assistance.
“Misses the mark”
It’s grimy, unpleasant and uncomfortable. Perhaps it’s meant to be, to give those of us who didn’t live through the despot’s regime a view of what it was like, but by failing to create a compelling tale or people to care about, it misses the mark.
As with Arrow Academy’s other releases there are, however, a wealth of special features to enjoy which are far more interesting than the film itself. Among them is a new video essay about director Aleksei German by historian and critic Eugenie Zvonkine and a look at the historical events of the time, which delivers valuable background on the problems facing Soviet citizens at the time the film is set.
‘Khrustalyov, My Car!’ is released on Blu-ray by Arrow Films, £29.99