The first Western film to shoot within the Kremlin and KGB h.q., and Andrei Konchalovsky’s first Soviet-based pic in 12 years, this idiosyncratic look at the life of Stalin’s personal projectionist has numerous points of interest but is too muddled and misconceived.
Set in Moscow beginning in 1939 and based on a true story, this odd tale focuses on Ivan Sanshin (Tom Hulce), a groveling, pathetic projectionist for the KGB who has a kind of greatness thrust upon him when he is summarily ordered to screen a film for the supreme leader.
At home on Slaughterhouse Street, Ivan and his bride (Lolita Davidovich) celebrate their honeymoon evening as a Jewish family is evicted from the building. Davidovich maintains an obsessive devotion to the family’s orphan daughter. Ivan admits he loves Stalin more that his wife, and has her give herself on a train one night to a notoriously brutal KGB head (Bob Hoskins).
Pic excels in glimpses of power at the top. Several scenes take place in Stalin’s personal projection room, a salon of plush chairs and ample food and drink where the air is checked for possible poisoning. Ultimately, however, the story proves unwieldy with Konchlovsky unable to integrate the diverse sides of the tale and give it a proper dramatic arc.
Hulce’s performance is typically enthusiastic, but the character is so thick-headed that one tires of him after more than two hours. Hoskins makes a sketchily conceived but utterly convincing thug.