Perhaps cinema’s most brilliant political thriller, Igor Gostev’s Serye volki depicts the ouster of Soviet Premier Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev (Khruschyov) in October 1964. Among the conspirators participating in the coup are Khrushchev’s replacement, Leonid Brezhnev, and the head of the K.G.B., Vladimir Semichastny. Unlike most films of this kind, this one finely details the surreptitious process by which the coup was formulated and executed—and this is fascinating stuff. Khrushchev finds out about the plot against him and blames himself for relaxing his vigilance. Despite all his great liberalizations (deStalinization, the freeing of political prisoners, and so forth), it never occurred to him to dismantle the K.G.B.; or, to put it another way, he still found the terrorist state police necessary. Ironically, Khrushchev ended up their prisoner, living a secluded life of retirement under their watchful eye.
Khrushchev—Rolan Bykov caps his career with an amazing performance—is enormously complex: pure steel beneath a warm, folksy, humorous persona. One highlight occurs when he explodes over the fact that Sweden—Sweden, for gosh sake!—was a socialist country while more than 45 years after the Bolshevik Revolution the U.S.S.R. still wasn’t. (At the time of the coup Khrushchev was rewriting the national constitution.) Another highlight: Khrushchev remarks to First Deputy Premier Mikoyan, “We’re the last people to remember why this nation was created!” Khrushchev says repeatedly that he needs ten more years in office to accomplish his goals.
This terrifically suspenseful film, to whose script Khrushchev’s son contributed, suggests a more intricate, more visually graceful instance of Constantinos Costa-Gavras’s cinema. It also suggests Luchino Visconti’s The Damned (1969), but with the body politic substituted for family. Gostev’s zooms, though, are petite. It is as if Gostev were telling us, “Lean in and watch and listen.”
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