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In the western world Shostakovich was always said to be a faithful soviet communist composer. Shortly after Shostakovich's death, Volkov (a friend of Sh.) emigrated to the US, having notes of endless talks with Sh. in the luggage. Volkov published the "memoir's". In this book, Sh. appears the other way round: a silent dissident, a man who fooled the communist authorities, but also a man who suffered dramatically from repressions. Obviously Sh's family and soviet officials took all measures to "prove" the book was a hoax. And even western experts had doubts too. It was not before Sh. son Maxim emigrated, that the discussions about authenticity got new fuel. Today, Volkov's book is widely accepted and trusted.
Back to the film: This was a brave move to make a movie based on this book. There is not much story, just episodes. Perhaps the experimental habit is the only way to approach this challenge. Overall, not a bad effort, but certainly not the big hit. I am not too sure as to whether Ben Kingsley was the best choice, but who knows how Shostakovich really was? In my opinion the music selection is the weak point of the film. Obviously, only the most popular bits and pieces have been used (e.g. symphonies no. 5 and 7, the great pasacaglia from the violin concerto etc.), but this was not in all scenes appropriate. I found it rather disturbing to have this music always in the background, let alone the omission of other important works. The movie focuses on the relationship Shostakovich-Stalin: certainly the most fascinating part of Sh's life. At the end, the movie has an episode on the 13th symphony, which bases on the poem "Babi Jar" by Jevtushenko. This was the only big trouble Sh. got in the time after Stalin - not because of the music but the poem! This episode should have been dropped.
My final verdict: an interesting movie, interesting views on Stalinism and maybe a good approach to Shostakovich's music for people who never heard his music. But, make sure you had enough sleep or there is enough tea or coffee available when you watch it.
I can strongly recommend the book. It is much more enjoyable than the movie.
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