The Inner Circle (1991)
User ReviewsReview this title
Hulce is terrific as the simple, hard-working Soviet citizen who wants nothing more than to believe in the system that dominates his life, yet he knows it's a system riddled with traps and monsters. Hoskins is equally good as the real-life monster Beria - Stalin's chief of state security and main hatchet-man.
A highly underrated movie.
Like "The Killing Fields," it creates tremendous tension in the viewer by portraying sympathetic, likable characters within an environment of tremendous evil.
The acting and cinematography are both excellent, making a direct connection with the feelings of every character.
My only criticism is very slight (I did rate it a 10, after all), but I wondered a bit at the persistance of Sanchin's naivete. While this is central to his character, I found it a little difficult to comprehend based on what he went through.
Very moving film.
The acting, direction and camera work are all excellent and there is really nothing negative I can say about the film. An unusual and important film historically.
Ivan working his way up the ladder as a Soviet KGB officer, in the field of communications, gets more and more detached from his wife Anastasia, Lolita Davidovich,that leads her to almost leave him. Swearing blind and total obedience to his great leader Comrade Stalin Ivan overlooks the horror that Stalin, and his Commie thugs, have brought upon the Russian people as well as nation. It's when Ivan gets Anastasia a job as a waitress to the Soviet bigwigs that he learns how evil and despicable they really are. This later leads Anastasia to hang herself leaving a distraught Ivan, who had told her he loved Comrade Stalin more then herself, to rethink his misplaced and fanatical love for "Uncle Joe" Stalin and his Socialist Soviet Peoples Republic; or in short USSR.
Still under the spell of the "Great Liberator" and "Man of the People", as well as every boys and girls best friend, Joseph Stalin Ivan soon comes in contact with 17 year old Katya Gubelman, Bess Meyer whom he hasn't seen in over ten years. Katya as an infant was sent away to a KGB orphanage after her parents-Ivan's next door neighbors-were accused and sent to Siberia for secretly working and spying, by going on a trip abroad, for the Capitalists.
Even though Katya-like Ivan-is a fanatical follower of the Russian Dictator, she thinks he's cute, it's very obvious that she's been brainwashed, at the KBG orphanage, and is too young and impressionable to see the truth behind the man. There's nothing good or decent as well as patriotic about Stalin at all! In fact he's one of the biggest mass murderers in recorded history who's victims far outnumber even those of Adolph Hitler! And on top of all that it's Stalin, or his underlines, who's responsible for the deaths, in a Siberian Soviet gulag, of Katya's own parents!
It took a long while for Ivan to come to realize what his devotion to Stalin and the rotten and corrupt system, Stalinist Communism, that he represented did not only to himself but to the tens of millions of Russians, like Katya, who blindly and almost religiously worshiped him.
This dark period in Russian history came crashing down to an end on March 5, 1953 when the "Great Patriotic Leader" of the Soviet Union-Joseph Stalin-quietly passed away in his sleep at the ripe old age of 73. At Stalin's state funeral millions of Russians tried to get a last glimpse of the Soviet Dictator, with hundreds being crushed to death in the process, as he lie in state in the "Hall of Soviet Heros" inside the Kremlin. It was some three years later that Stalin was exposed to the Russian people, as well as entire world, as the madman and murderous psycho that he really was by non-other then his former Ukrainian butt-kisser, who carried out some of Stalin's worst atrocities, and now new-in 1956-leader of the Soviet Union Nikita Khrushchev.
After lying in state next to the founder, and fellow Commie thug, of the USSR the mummified Vladimir Lenin Stalin's body, on Khrushchev's direct orders, was removed from its place of honor and buried in a common and unmarked grave outside the Kremlin walls. So much for the "Great Liberator" of the Russian people who, according to his propaganda ministry, watched over them like a sweet and kindly old gardener lovingly watches over, and nurtures, his prized tulips roses and lilies!
P.S Aleksandr Zbruyev's, the Russian actor playing Joseph Stalin in the movie, father Victor who was a vice-minister of communications in the USSR back in the 1930's was arrested and convicted for being a Capitalist spy in 1937 a year before Aleksandr was born. After Victor's staged show-trial, that lasted just 15 minutes, he was taken outside the courtroom and executed within the Kremlin walls.
But what of the other factors essential to "The Inner Circle"? Tom Hulce plays a man with a tragic flaw - he places all his trust in those who deserve none of it. He is enthralled with a world of people who are, at best, amused by his devotion - at worst, utterly indifferent. Hulce gives a lot to the role. He covers every conceivable emotion, going up highs and down lows with such complete believability that you go with him. This is the best performance I've seen from him. Other performances center around this. Lolita Davidovich, who plays his young wife, is given some of the film's best scenes (many of which she actually plays solo). She can break your heart.
There's a key scene in the cinematography for me. During the passage where two women have a conversation in the empty bunkroom of an orphanage, Ennio Guarnieri creates an intensity that alters back and forth as the cross between different lightings. Throughout the entire film, he brings out deep browns and blues, miserable, cold tones. Any production filmed in the Kremlin could easily mimic its atmosphere, but "The Inner Circle" brings a humanity that is just that much more miserable.
I can't promise that this is exactly your sort of film, but if Russia interests you, or epic dramas, or the former USSR, or even the character of Stalin himself - this is something you should see. Besides anything, "The Inner Circle" is a great film. It truly is.
There's a crucial moment halfway the film, between Ivan, Tom Hulce as a naive and idealistic man who's just been promoted projectionist of the Kremlin, and Anastasia, Lolita Davidovich as his pragmatic and disillusioned wife. He just learned that she spent years visiting the daughter of their former neighbors, recognized traitors to the motherland, hence, threatening the high lifestyle he kept maintaining with a low profile.
Ivan asks: "Who do you love better, me or Katya Gubelman?" "Who do you love better, me or Comrade Stalin?" She answers.
And that perfectly encapsulates the tragedy of "The Inner Circle". It's about a love triangle. Ivan is a loving husband but like all the USSR citizens in the 30's, he has an unshakable faith on the Soviet regime and its great leader Stalin. He answers Stalin without blinking an eye, a comical answer if not so tragic. And Anastasia loves him too, but she's obsessed with Katya, put in an orphanage after the arrest of her parents, victims of one of these purges that the Soviet regime used to eliminate or intimidate eventual 'plotters'. But Anastasia's love isn't just something made of maternal instinct.
Obviously, Katya would be better living with Ivan and Anastasia. Obviously, Katya is innocent in every meaning of the word. Obviously, she can be adopted although her Jewishness might be an issue (but the film doesn't clear that point). Yet, because of the untimely circumstances of Ivan's promotion, and the way it might undermine his opportunity to live the 'Soviet Dream', it becomes an unfeasible thing at the expenses of reason. And many events in the film happen at the expenses of reason, and this is why the inner circle gets more and more vicious as the plot progresses.
But there's something defining in Ivan's personality, his promotion occurs on the same day of his neighbors' arrest, so that he gets a glimpse of the worst and the best, that can ever happen to a man in these days. When lives hung on a thread, suspicion could become as deadly as accusation. The power of the film, based on the memories of real life projectionist Ivan Ganchin is to make us follow the show and the sideshow of the Soviet system from the perspective of a husband and a wife. And as we understand Anastasia's quest, the closer to the 'inner circle' we get, the more paranoid we feel.
There's an extraordinary sequence when Ivan gets ready for Stalin's arrival, with his 'inner circle' including Foreign Affaires Molotov and Security Chief Beria (Bob Hoskins) and you can read the nervousness in the eyes of all the officers. One inspects the corridors and discovers ashes on a jar, and gives a female subordinate a ruthless warning, but later, the roles are reversed when a General finds a bottle with an opened cap. We know this is a very serious fault when he just saw operators checking if air isn't poisoned with vacuum cleaners. That's another of these powerful ironies, the higher you climb the social ladder, the more fragile is your position, and the harder you might fall.
Every thing goes fine that night, whose emotional peak is reached when Ivan makes his first eye contact with Stalin (Tom Hulce's performance is grotesquely phenomenal, now here's an actor severely underused in movies). After Stalin leaves, everyone can finally take a break and savor what's left from food (which can neither be taken from the Kremlin or served again). But in another evening, Ivan understands the precariousness of any position, when a default in a projection machine puts the Ministry two inches away from the Gulag, and he understands that maybe his predecessor didn't really die of tuberculosis. And we know that there'll be a payback despite Ivan's cautiousness. And it does happen, but not because of Anastasia, although she'll be part of Ivan's moral downfall.
The tragedy of Anastasia reveals also the horrific side of all the members of the 'inner circle', on the top of them, Beria. After having tacitly renounced to his wife, who becomes a KGB agent carrying a child, Ivan can only weep over the ugliness of the world he's been immersed into. His heart disappears with Anastasia's suicide so that the only connection to such things as love and reality will come back ten years later, as Katya, a brainwashed teenager, now calling her own parents traitors.
"The Inner Circle" is a movie about Cinema and projectionist, so it deals very much with images; the most prevalent being the face of Stalin and its immediate contradiction once you get inside his circle. Images that lie are only matters of perception, but some are indelible, like the blood stain Katya's father left on the wallpaper when he crushed his head during his arrest. The stain remained in the house ever since Ivan and Anastasia moved in, and even Katya would discover it. The haunting stain is an image that speak thousands world about the cruelty and absurdity of a totalitarian system that was so destructive it even killed people at the death of Stalin. Anastasia didn't need the stain to understand life, yet she let herself being destroyed, proving that she indeed loved Ivan more than anything.
And Ivan would think back of his foolish answer on the day of Stalin's funeral after he prevented Katya from being trampled, and realized that the most important things in life should never be affected or left to any political power. He gave his wife as a pimp to the KGB executives as he left Katya to the orphanage, but he wouldn't let her go again, closing his flawed character's arc the perfect way, humanly speaking.
That being said, I did not appreciate Russians speaking English with Russian accents. I compare it to the way the DeNiro film "Stalin" dealt with language. Ethnic Russians spoke with very proper British accents, ordinary Russians with common English accents, and Stalin with a rough accent, using simple language, that was hard to place.
I also found Tom Hulce's performance to be excessively maudlin. The sense of irony that all the other characters seemed to have was absent in his.