Decades before Germany's Gestapo became a synonym for terror and political murder, the first modern secret police was born on December 20, 1917, in Petrograd. In chilling detail, Alexander Rogozhkin's THE CHECKIST indicts Lenin's "Extraordinary Commission to Combat Counter-Revolution and
Sabotage," which for 70 years provided the domestic force behind the Communist Party's words.
THE CHEKIST focuses on the early, heroic period of the Soviet secret police, abbreviated in Russian as "the Checka," and is thus an even stronger condemnation of the methods used to build what was once called the first socialist state.
In a richly furnished office, three men sit around reading off lists of names and crimes, quickly deciding on whether to execute the offenders. Two wear uniforms, while their nominal chief dresses like a bourgeois, in a suit and tie. Andrei Srubov (Igor Sergheyev) is a provincial Cheka chief
somewhere in European Russia during the last year of the civil war.
While his uniformed colleagues, Katz and Pepel (Mikhail Wasserbaum and Alexi Poluyan), authorize executions and then spend the rest of their time with women or hobbies, Srubov dutifully watches the nightly executions, pacing back and forth as the executioners do their work. Some of the Chekists
seem to enjoy their work, but one, Boje (Alexander Kharashkevich), tries to commit suicide. When a pretty young girl begs for her life, the Chekists waver until Srubov himself intervenes and shoots her down.
Srubov broods more and more deeply on the role of killing. At one execution, he doffs his clothes to join the next batch of victims. A quick gesture by an observant commandant (Igor Golovin) saves his life, but before long, he is reduced to a prospective victim in a mental hospital, where
procedures are almost a facsimile of the Cheka's. The film ends with a fantasy image of Srubov and his comrades riding as if to a more open and honest battle, though they end up in a desolate field enclosed by mist.
The power of THE CHEKIST lies in the grisly details of the executioner's work, so fully captured by the camera: rats that scurry away when the killers test their guns, the wooden doors against which the victims must stand, the channels designed to drain away the blood, and the hoist for lifting
the bodies into a waiting truck. Ironies abound in this script by Jacques Baynac. Srubov's father had been executed by Katz. Perhaps guilt-ridden, Katz indulges in gallows humor that is almost prophetic: "What is the fate of a Chekist who has killed 50 people? He is the 51st!"
Rogozhkin seems to revel in his new-found ability to criticize the Cheka's origins. He also uses his new freedom as a filmmaker to focus excessively on the nude bodies of the victims in a clear comparison to the agony of Christ. The script includes idiosyncrasies that make the Cheka look good, but
only in comparison to Stalin's later enforcers. In one scene, a few suspects are released. In another, Srubov pardons an officer accused of mutiny to the cheers of his men. Still, the round of murders inures most of the characters to the petty crimes, mass suffering, and casual brutality around
them. (Violence, extensive nudity, sexual situations, adult situations.)
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- Released: 1992
- Rating: NR
- Review: Decades before Germany's Gestapo became a synonym for terror and political murder, the first modern secret police was born on December 20, 1917, in Petrograd. In chilling detail, Alexander Rogozhkin's THE CHECKIST indicts Lenin's "Extraordinary Commission… (more)