Stalin's Wife

on July 18, 2005 by Wade Major
She was just 16 when she married an ambitious 39-year-old revolutionary named Joseph Stalin. By her early 30s, Nadezhda Alliluyev was the wife of an increasingly megalomaniacal Soviet dictator. Soon thereafter, she was dead. Though the circumstances of her death remain mysterious and the broader details of her life widely disputed, there's much to be gleaned from watching "Stalin's Wife," the compelling new documentary by "Vanilla Sky" director Slava Tsukerman.

Delving into a life story that remains surprisingly taboo even now, Tsukerman's impressive historiographical detective work reconstructs more than a tragic biography -- it's a personalized portrait of Russia itself as embodied in the distressed life of a simple girl whose great misfortune it was to be espoused to one of the most murderous tyrants of all time. She never lived to see either the horrors of World War II or its gruesome aftermath, but neither was she made privy to the brutal collectivist agenda that preceded it -- hers was, in short, a life of naivete and passivity, ignorant -- until the end -- of the evils to which she was being made party, powerless to constrain the historical tide in which she, too, would eventually be swept.

Tsukerman's approach is straightforward and unembellished: talking heads intercut with archival footage and narration. And there is considerable disagreement over the facts -- interviewees, including surviving family members and historians, frequently contradict each other and dispute one another's theories.

Even still, the aim of "Stalin's Wife" is not to reach firm conclusions or unravel any lingering mysteries but to shed light where for too long there has been none, and, perhaps, to beckon audiences to an awareness that just might prevent any such thing from ever happening again. Narrated by Tim Smallwood, Susan Doukas and Mick Cribben. Directed and written by Slava Tsukerman. Produced by Slava Tsukerman and Myra Todorovsky. A Cinetron release. Documentary. Unrated. Running time: 104 min.

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