Armando Iannucci is the director of great political satire most notably VEEP starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus of Seinfeld fame. This movie is very much in that tradition. As satire both VEEP and this film move between comedy and making you feel slightly uncomfortable. This film tells the story of Stalin’s death and the subsequent events as members of the politburo fight for power and control. Stalin was one of the world’s most cruel and controlling dictators and his sudden death left a void that created a real crisis for the Soviet Union. The contest mainly between Khrushchev and Beria, the head of the secret service, was a devious and ruthless competition for power. Iannucci however manages to create a comic look at the struggle without taking away from the cruelty of the regime or the power struggle. The film did not shy away from the violence and reign of terror that Stalin created but managed to build comic relief and distraction in the relationships among the surviving members of the politburo. The cast is amazing including Steve Buscemi and Michael Palin among other lesser known character actors. The acting was smart with all the key roles contributing to the overall story. The Q and A was one of the best I have attended. Iannucci and four of the actors including Buscemi were there. Iannucci and Buscemi were particularly eloquent, funny and informative in their comments and we learned a lot about how the film was put together including rehearsals and use of improvisation when necessary. All in all an excellent experience and a film worth your time to see.
Frederick Wiseman is an 87-year-old documentary director who has been making films for over 50 years and in that time produced 45 features. In the early days his films were political and in some cases banned. More recently his films are more descriptive and focussed on community life such as Brooklyn and Berkeley, artistic groups like the ballet and institutions like the National Gallery in London and this film about the New York Public Library. These later films are very long so if you choose to see them I recommend renting them and have the ability to pause and return. This is by no means to suggest they are boring. Wiseman has no script or apparent agenda. In this case of Ex Libris we are taken on a tour of the main branch on 5th Ave. and visits to other branches throughout the city. He filmed visitors, staff meetings, board meetings, meeting of local community groups, librarians, library workers and many scenes of life in the library. In doing so he illustrates the central role of this library and libraries in general as they provide resources and nurture for the communities they serve. We saw a great interview with Elvis Costello, meetings of teachers in black communities, got educated about the nature of racism in the US, and many other events. We also learned about the problems of loaning e-books, convincing city councils to provide funding and how do deal with the homeless who use the sites for shelter. It was a fascinating look at one of society’s most important institutions and specifically in New York City. An excellent film. Sadly Wiseman was not here for a Q and A but that is because he is in the process of making another film. I can hardly wait. I have a review of the National Gallery documentary in an earlier blog post – 2014. Enjoy.
Oh right. If you want to see another entirely different picture of the main branch of the New York Public Library check out The Day After Tomorrow, a sci-fi film about apocalyptic climate change starring Jake Gyllenhaal. LOL