Stalin's Wife

LIQUID SKY director Slava Tsukerman's portrait of Josef Stalin's second wife, Nadezhda Alliluyev, is documentary filmmaking on the cheap, comprised primarily of familiar newsreel footage and shot-on-video talking-head interviews. Fortunately, the circumstances surrounding Nadezhda's short life and suspicious death are the stuff of the most lurid melodrama,...read more

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LIQUID SKY director Slava Tsukerman's portrait of Josef Stalin's second wife, Nadezhda Alliluyev, is documentary filmmaking on the cheap, comprised primarily of familiar newsreel footage and shot-on-video talking-head interviews. Fortunately, the circumstances surrounding Nadezhda's short life and suspicious death are the stuff of the most lurid melodrama, even if the thwarted resolution ofLIQUID SKY director Slava Tsukerman's portrait of Josef Stalin's second wife, Nadezhda Alliluyev, is documentary filmmaking on the cheap, comprised primarily of familiar newsreel footage and shot-on-video talking-head interviews. Fortunately, the circumstances surrounding Nadezhda's short life and suspicious death are the stuff of the most lurid melodrama, even if the mystery’s thwarted resolution is ultimately frustrating. Tsukerman had the good fortune to interview a number of Alliluyev family descendants, and an assortment of historians are on hand to provide context and fill in the blanks. Beginning with the enigma of Nadezhda's haunting tombstone — a female effigy only partially sculpted out of a tall block of rough stone, with her hand positioned ambiguously across her breast and a cast-iron broken rose at the monument's base — Tsukerman reaches back to turn-of-the-century Georgia to describe the intense relationship Nadezhda's deeply committed socialist parents, Sergei and Olga, developed with the young Josef Stalin years before Nadezhda was even born. The 39-year-old Stalin later wed Nadezhda when she was only 16, and she was by all accounts a stern, unhappy woman who watched her husband change from a fiery idealist to a paranoid demagogue, and eventually took her own life at the age of 30. Or did she? Dum-dum-dum! Was Nadezhda really shot in the head, not the breast per the official report? And if so, why lie about it? Could it be because the right-handed Nadezhda was actually shot in her left temple? And if it wasn't murder, did she commit suicide because she finally learned what had long been whispered — that she was simultaneously Stalin's wife, sister and daughter? The material is certainly lurid, and you can't beat a personal history that coincides with so dramatic a story as the traumatic birth of the Soviet Union. But it's all so inconclusive: The film promises to share documents never before made public, but really only comes up with a mildly intriguing, allegedly bogus document that Tsukerman offers as further proof that something was amiss about Nadezhda's death. What the film does prove is Tsukerman's original assertion: Nadezhda's story is a "collage of contradicting rumors and legends" that touches on everything from incest and infidelity to sexual assault. But given the available information, fully imagined fiction might have been a better route to pursue than sketchy historical documentary. all their mysteries is ultimately frustrating. Tsukerman had the good fortune to interview a number of Alliluyev family descendants, and an assortment of historians are on hand to provide context and fill in the blanks. Beginning with the enigma of Nadezhda's haunting tombstone — a female effigy only partially sculpted out of a tall block of rough stone, her hand positioned ambiguously across her breast a cast-iron broken rose at the monument's base — Tsukerman reaches back to turn-of-the-century Georgia to describe the intense relationship Nadezhda's deeply-committed socialist parents, Sergei and Olga, developed with the young Josef Stalin years before Nadezhda was even born. The 39-year-old Stalin later wed Nadezhda when she was only 16, and she was by all accounts a stern, unhappy woman who watched her husband change from a fiery idealist to a paranoid demagogue, and eventually took her own life at the age of 30. Or did she? Dum-dum-dum! Was Nadezhda really shot in the head, not the breast per the official report? And if so, why lie about it? Could it be because the right-handed Nadezhda was actually shot in her left temple? And if it wasn't murder, did she commit suicide because she finally learned what had long been whispered — that she was simultaneously Stalin's wife, sister and daughter? The material is certainly lurid, and you can't beat a personal history that coincides with so dramatic a story as the traumatic birth of the Soviet Union. But it's all so inconclusive: The film promises to share documents never before made public, but really only comes up with a mildly intriguing, allegedly bogus document that Tsukerman offers as further proof that something was amiss about Nadezhda's death. What the film does prove is Tsukerman's original assertion: That Nadezhda's story is a "collage of contradicting rumors and legends" that touches on everything from incest and infidelity to sexual assault. But given the available information, fully-imagined fiction might have been a better route to pursue than sketchy historical documentary.

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  • Released: 2005
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: LIQUID SKY director Slava Tsukerman's portrait of Josef Stalin's second wife, Nadezhda Alliluyev, is documentary filmmaking on the cheap, comprised primarily of familiar newsreel footage and shot-on-video talking-head interviews. Fortunately, the circumsta… (more)

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