The deadly Soviet response to a workers’ strike tests a mother’s faith in communism in Andrei Konchalovsky’s harrowing drama based on true events

Veteran film-maker, screenwriter and theatre and TV director Andrei Konchalovsky’s career is nothing if not eclectic. He co-wrote Tarkovsky’s 1966 classic Andrei Rublev, while his directorial CV ranges from an acclaimed 1970 adaptation of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya to Venice prize winners The Postman’s White Nights and Paradise, via the Kurosawa-originated white-knuckle thriller Runaway Train and the ill-fated Hollywood buddy cop action film Tango & Cash, from which he was removed mid-shoot.

Konchalovsky’s latest (once again feted at Venice) is among his finest work, a harrowing drama set in 1962, in the provincial USSR town of Novocherkassk. Julia Vysotskaya plays Lyudmila (AKA Lyuda), a stalwart party official who served as a battlefield nurse during the second world war, and who retains a nostalgic devotion to Stalinist ideals in the age of Khrushchev. “What am I supposed to believe in if not communism?” Lyuda asks, as her political devotions are challenged in the fallout of a factory strike and protest, to which the army and/or KGB (precise attribution is a thorny issue to be wrestled with) respond with deadly force. As the authorities rush to cover up a state-sponsored atrocity, Lyuda searches for her missing teenage daughter, Svetka (Yulia Burova), for whose life she fears in the wake of terrible violence.

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