Khrustalyov, My Car! (1998) Poster

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josephmaurer8 January 2006
Warning: Spoilers
One of the most brilliant films ever made, it is also one of the most challenging to watch. Alexii German's film about the Doctor's Plot of 1953, the Stalin-Beria machine, and anti-semitism is a brutal and farcical exploration that puts the viewer into states of disorientation, narrative panic - even induced paranoia - that captures the feel of late stalinism (where no one could follow the plot.) The mix of comedy and atmosphere of threat and brutality is not for the meek. It is a film of frenzied imagination that shifts registers (no one knows whats going on, thus no one person can relate the whole story) and genres (mystery, thriller, comedy, drama, historical, horror, melodrama.) It is never easy to follow, but also never random - all of the decisions work to leave clues to the plot while effortlessly conveying the tone of the period with each scene. Don't try for a complicated symbolic reading (when the "very semitic looking" twins dash in and out of closets at various points in the film they are playing out their own paranoid neurosis of having to hide in these closets when the authorities come, no symbols here.) The nonsense is very, very real. Be ready for a continual denial of certainty. Thankfully, it is beautifully shot to ease the challenge. Be sad (or sigh in relief, depending) that the original director's cut isn't available. Its even "moreso" in every way!! One of Russia's most daring and original filmmakers.
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Brilliant excerpt of past
jtuohini25 May 2000
This black-and-white film is a total surprise: never earlier have I seen anyone making history to live as breathtaking as Aleksei German in his output; "Khrustalyov, mashinu!" brings us the year of Stalin's death such close to us. Ghost of Stalin and the power of fear and idiotism can almost touch us through this perfect film.

"Khrustalyov" consists of scenes with prestissimo-tempo: persons are talking and walking and camera follows so many things that it is almost impossible to absorb all the material which is offered us humble spectators. The plot is not as important as how it is told.

Superb views from Moscow in the middle of the Winter with cars driving like devilish monsters are without any doubt one my greatest moments in cinema. It took a whole year from Germany to collect all the vehicles - only to show them in his film for few minutes... What perfectionism! And the whole film is same miraculous quality.

A must!
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one of a kind
savva_pelik11 April 2011
an absolute masterpiece that becomes quite an experience for the audience.

from the first sight, it might be interesting for those who were born in soviet regime only, since the story itself is about the darkest period of soviet regime - Stalin's era - but if you look closer you will discover a Kafka-like parable of a man trying to survive in a doomed circle of fatal circumstances.

dark, atmospheric, accurate in every single character and detail, this film requires your involvement to be understood and appreciated -

and once this happens, you will achieve a cinematic treasure, one of a kind.

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Stalin like you've never seen him before
laursene25 November 2003
It's easy to slot away Khrustalyov, mashinu! as either a great and beautiful whatchamacallit, or a hopeless hodgepodge. Actually, it is about something: the Stalinist terror, and the accumulated guilty consciences of the Russians - even many of his victims - after living for a generation under his thumb.

General Klensky (Yuri Tsurilo, in a stunning performance) is a "good" Russian - a doctor who has achieved a position of power and respect under Stalin while, he thinks, maintaining his honor and humanity. That delicate balancing act comes undone when he finds out that he's on the hit list during the "doctors' plot," Stalin's final purge. German's film captures the growing absurdity of trying to rationalize life under a beast like Stalin: His principal characters' lives (and brains) have become as cluttered and confused with attempts to make sense of their own conduct in the face of tyranny as the crazy, stuffed-to-the-gills, attic-like warrens of rooms they live in.

Russia at the end of Stalin is a squalid sprawl of these absurdist dwellings, with only the sinister black cars of the party apparats representing any kind of order, and that the most brutal kind. The violence creeps into everyone's lives, as we watch German's characters slap and spit at and sometimes sexually assault each other. Sometimes it's deadly, sometimes in jest, but always a kind of emanation of the violence visited on them from the terrible man who pulls all the strings.

Millions of people lived under a system something like this in the 20th Century, and German's film is great because it captures so much of the absurdity and brutality they experienced. It shows you how they lived through it, and also how the subterfuges that helped them to do so could often turn around and bite them back - making their survival tactics ultimately useless against the terror. Life under Stalin was a desperate balancing act, represented here by the game of balancing a drink on one's head that one of the minor characters and then, at the end, Klensky himself engage in.

With Khrustalyov, mashinu! it's hard to know where to hand the most praise: The art direction is staggering. All the performances are perfect. The direction is supple and endlessly perceptive. The B&W cinematography is gorgeous. There are signs of the influence of Orson Welles' films circa the 1960s, and especially of Welles' The Trial, with its characters moving through the cluttered warrens of rooms in the Gare St. Lazare. The way German choses to view his characters also reminds me of Bela Tarr's work. But German is a master and Khrustalyov, mashinu! is an astonishing artistic vision of a terrible time in human history.
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merge of Fellini's 8 1/2 and Katchor's Julius Knipl
camel-93 May 2002
clearly, this is a film for which either one votes 10 or votes 3. Those artsy folks will hail it a great feat, and those folks that wish to be entertained will walk out of the theather. A black and white film, the titles appear only after about 10 minutes of pivoting plots, kind of reminded me how the titles suddenly appeared in Sergio Leone's "Once Upon a Time the West". The random appearence of people's faces from left and right, some emerging from sauna tubs, others from foggy and steamy rooms, reminds Fellini's Otto e Mezzo. And much of the interiors, people's musings on everyday life, and the "life goes on" quality of city life, reminds the graphic novel by Ben Katchor, "Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer". On the absurbist twists and plots, "The Nose" by Gogol comes to mind, and the slight fantastic world (look out for those umbrellas suddenly popping open) brings Bulgakov's "The Master and Margarita". Rich (but senseless) plot, lots of takes, lots of baroquely enriched interiors, outdoor scenes of streets in snowy winter and the muffled sound of cars rolling on snow. Even the title is random: a sentence one hears being yelled by one of the many many characters. Now, if Francesco Rosi's "La Tregua" had a bit of this randomness and absurbist quality to give more of the feel of directionless of war's end, it would have been great.
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a sadly underestimated masterpiece
danila_4024 July 2001
This is by far one of the best conceived and executed films of the last decade. Those who think it's "boring trash" should stick to watching Saving Private Ryan and such.

The subject matter of the film is not at all belabored, as some critics state, but will always be important to true artists. However, for fear of being reduced to banal rubbish, it should only be tackled by people of Alexei German's talent.
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Complex beautiful film
WeGetIt31 October 2009
It's hard to explain or comment on this film. It's cinematography was beautiful, but even as a Russian I found the plot/story/events almost impossible to understand. That, however, did not make me enjoy the movie much less. Granted I would have loved to have understood what i watched, but i honestly think that is what the director wanted, as another poster said, to have you be lost and confused. Why? To make the film better I guess. We watch things we don't understand, or rather we understand what we are seeing but can't put together why it's happening or how it fits into the story. I would have loved to watch this film with subtitles; my Russian is now rusty and this film had a lot of dialogue and people talking over each other.

German's genius masterpiece is of course "My Friend Ivan Lapshin", made in 1984. A movie so perfect and genius that it hurts. Both films are similar, they have the same "voice" narrating - even German's son who became a director would keep using this somber narrator's voice.

Why did I give this film a 10 even though i had no idea what the story was?? A couple of reasons. I already said genius cinematography, not as perfect as "..Lapshin" but somewhat similar and even more busy, even more free and creative. The work and though that went into this film is staggering. It's a film filled with action. A true piece of art I'd say, even though almost impossible to understand. We are given no context, no historical data, no explanations about who the characters are except a couple of words on their work. This movie proves ultimately that you can like a movie without understanding it. They should have sent a poem, I have nothing else to say about this film. A very strange and different film, see it one. But if you see this film definitely see German's masterpiece "My Friend Ivan Lapshin", it's a hundred times better, the story is perfectly clear and geniously artistically told, see it before you watch "Khrustalyov mashinu", because if you watch "Khrustalyov" first you might not want to watch the other if you don't like it, which would be the biggest shame, "Ivan Lapshin" is at the top of best Russian Soviet films.
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a masterpiece of russian cinema
baltasbatas20 October 2001
i saw this two years ago at cinema festival. i still remember it now. having watched a lot of russian cinema, i can admit it`s one of the most powerful, imaginative and thought provoking movies ever made.

the acting is superb and guided with pettiness. please, believe me,

you have never seen so many different characters in one movie. every extra has a role.

a cinematic experience of rare breed.

if you like to be surprised - see it.

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It's Hard to Be a God...
kusaj-4789511 June 2020
In Stalinist Russia. Especially when you are a general and a doctor at a time when both were doomed. I enjoyed the film very much although I had to watch without subtitles. I still feel I got as good a grasp on the film in as much as that is possible. You just have to go with it. If you need to have action and have not submersed yourself in foreign language films previously you may wish to pass. Or you can watch for 5 or 10 minutes, decide you hate it and leave a substandard comment or worse, a review.
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Visually Striking but Narratively Something
mbs2 December 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Just saw a screening of this tonight not knowing a whole lot about it other then its a rarely screened expressionist film set in the dying days of Stalin's Russia. Why Not Go?

I'm just going to go right down the middle on it and split the difference between gorgeous looking yet brain bustlingly abstract art film and give it a split review in the sense that i have no idea if i actually liked it or hated it or if i felt anything about it. After it was over I overheard someone say about it that you could make a mean drinking game by taking a shot every time someone in the film spits right at the camera. (indeed this is what happens directly before the title pops up on screen and is what happens many, many times throughout.)

I thought i was following it fine enough---when you're watching it, the visuals and the rhythm and pacing of the movie take on a life of its own--so you just got to go with it and let the movie take you on its own way in its own time to tell you what's happening. What story was there i didn't feel was difficult to follow exactly, just that it was not exactly a concrete storyline. (If i can describe the film's storytelling--its more of a you are there kind of film then a watch what happens kind of film. Story ultimately focuses on this military general who is revealed to be a doctor in what i thought was a mental hospital that also happens to contain a patient who could be the general's exact double. The film sorta follows the general as the general lives his life, especially following him around his home, following the members of his family around (i believe the ten or eleven year old son was supposed to be the director--seeing as how the man who introduced the film claimed it was supposed to be based upon the director's memories of growing up--and when you know that--the first half of the film with its relaxed unhurried structure makes a lot of sense---its almost like a coming of age film when its focusing on the ten year old son even if the film isn't focusing on the ten year old son all that much) including his wife, and his ailing mom (in addition to his ten year old son--ironically if the director is supposed to be the ten year doesn't make the ten year old heroic or innocent at all--the ten year old gets into trouble for being anti-Semitic at school whereby the general says if you want to be anti-Semitic i'll treat you like an anti-Semite taking off his belt...but we saw the general being really mean to a Jewish neighbor earlier so things that make you go hmmm.)

there are some side characters who sort of wander into the film almost from the sides (literally wandering into the film and then having the and the film follow them for a little while before ultimately coming back to the general.) including that neighbor whom nobody in the community where the general lives seems to like--the very beginning of the film is him getting run over or attacked and then not being helped--or more rather being helped but not by a Russian. (the person helping him makes a point of saying i'm a swiss journalist here for a story--if he was a Russian i guess he wouldn't be helping him after all???)

i kind of sort of lost what was supposed to be happening around the time the words "part 2" pops up on actually goes back to the start of the film--and you see the general acting loopy and intoxicated---I started thinking oh OK i know what happened--the general's double escaped and is now posing as the general and that is why the general is acting so crazy and is at this party and acting so unlike the way he was in the first half of the film---eventually the general doctor is called upon to cure Stalin himself (who when the general finally gets to tend to is dead---the guy who ordered the general doctor there even tells him to make him fart---if he can fart maybe they can breathe some life back into him) eventually the general doctor sees the absolute chaos that's about to erupt thanks to there not being any more Stalin--and seems oddly relieved about it as he somehow manages to escape on the back of a truck to an uncertain future. I'm still not sure if that is what happened or not---in reading the other comments here it seems as if i was way off on that--but part of me still thinks that that was the whole purpose of even having a double for the general in the first half of the film right there.

So plot wise, its a bit of a mess, but i don't think its as impossible to follow as the other commenter's have made it seem. The reason to see the film--if you were inclined to do so even after reading all of this nonsensical plot details would be the pure visual look of the film--its very good looking movie---with constant and unending snowfall making the black and white cinematography that much more striking. The many, many tracking shots following the various characters as they go about their business are also beautifully done. The film is almost like watching a dream in the sense that you have little idea what's actually happening after wards, but when you're in the moment watching it--you kind of think that you know what's happening more or less, and that's all that really matters really.

Title is taken from a random line that one of Stalin's employees shouts after his body is taken away.
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in the dark
muerco28 May 2007
I saw this at a festival years ago and it stands as perhaps the paradigmatic Difficult Festival Experience--you suffer because it seems like it might be good for you. I had heard good reports from Cannes and knew that this would probably be my one chance to catch the film, so I went with it with a few friends who were even more in the dark about this than I was, although who were game to see anything that might be potentially good. My own feelings about how confounding and unpleasant the movie may have been were certainly colored in part by my feeling responsible for their enjoyment; I dragged them to this.

Things looked promising in the opening two or three minutes. The b&w photography was gorgeous and sinuous. The cold chill of the Russian winter oozes from the screen. But as soon talk and action began I was instantly, laughably lost. Occasionally my friends and I shot looks of eye-rolling befuddlement to each other; we were being taxed as never before, and unfortunately none of us had a Ph.D. in Russian history or film to serve as an anchor. To say that I had no idea what was going on, where we were or how the characters were related, is an understatement. This movie makes "The Master and Margarita" seem like "The Catcher in the Rye." I can't really make a judgment on the film other than that I felt the other comments here seem too weighted toward people who obviously came to the movie with a lot more history and background than I did. If I had come to the film with that critical apparatus, I probably would have appreciated it much, much more. I don't doubt that those comments are valid, but I did want to put a warning in there that this was a supremely Difficult film even for a fairly adventurous moviegoer. I can't really think of any other film I've ever seen that stumped and mystified me so fully yet so clearly had some structure and apparatus to it. It would probably take 500 pages of text for someone to explain in detail what's happening here, a further investment I wouldn't want to make.
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Immersion in the darkness
Zhorzhik-Morzhik8 March 2020
"Khrustalyov, my car!" - The drama of the cult director Aleksey German. Each new film by German is a phenomenon in world cinema. The director took 7 long years to produce this film. The attention of the authors of the film to the details of the difficult life of Soviet people in the postwar period is striking. The film literally dips the viewer in the terrible times of the 50s, when Stalin was sick and dying, and the NKVD put behind bars almost all the best doctors in the country. The top of the career of actor Yuriy Tsurilo. Nick Prize for Best Film and Best Director.
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Incomprehensible and boring
dan_199715 February 2010
This movie, especially its first half, consists on fast-paced, cryptic, seemingly unconnected scenes, with tоo many people participating to understand what is going on (or who are these anyways), and actions whose purpose remains mysterious. People often talk together, and repeat the same phrase many times, and 90% of what is told is unimportant.

The second half has more sense, and you start to understand some of the plot, and if you watch for the movie many times, you would understand more, but lots of questions about the plot still remain, without answer at the internet or anywhere.

The protagonist is a 12 years old boy at the time of the story, but he somehow knows what happened with his father and other things which he cannot know.

A book similar to "Khrustalev, mashinu" would be written with barely understandable, captcha-like letters, and with many random words added between real words, with lots of intentional typos and speller errors, and words printed over each other - so one could barely understand it.

I agree that some could enjoy even puzzle-like movies, but any puzzle should at least have a solution. This movie is a puzzle with lots of missing elements.

It does not require any talent to make such a movie. I could do it as easily as anyone else. At the Cannes festival the movie received no awards at all, and rightfully so.
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A Challenging Watch
pgeary600111 March 2021
The cinematography in this film is completely original and truly inventive. Right from the beginning I could tell it was unlike anything I had ever seen before.

The first half of the film has a surreal, Dada-esque aesthetic that might be frustrating to many. I have read that Fellini was one of the inspirations for the style of the film. I stuck with it, as I was sure there must be some point to it and the challenge was to find keys to meaning. The second half of the film was less chaotic but much more brutal.

My recommendation is to get the film on Blu-ray and first watch it without reading too much about it. Then read some of the literature assessing the film's meaning and approach, then view it again with the commentary for additional insights.
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astonishing visuals that draw one in and totally captivate for the considerable length of this film
christopher-underwood18 December 2020
Absolutely astonishing visuals that draw one in and totally captivate for the considerable length of this film, despite the narrative being very difficult to grasp and follow properly. We are in the grip of Alexsei German's vision and find ourselves staring in disbelief at the wondrous and surreal visuals. Astonishingly crowded interiors are contrasted with snowy streets with slow moving cars and trams. Set in late 1953 as Stalin dies this impressionistic vision is totally original, amusing and horrible by turns. There is much face slapping and crazy antics reminiscent of a Marx Brothers film but also dark horrors and hinted at atrocities. A dark and involving piece that is convincing if not always particularly comprehensible. Unique.
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An interesting idea stretched waaaaay too long.
tmcintyre29 May 2000
About ten minutes into this film I realized that there was no way I was going to fully understand what was going on. I usually enjoy films that challenge me, however about an hour and fifteen minutes into this film I stopped being challenged and just went numb. To give a plot synopsis is virtually impossible, it is far too incoherent for that. If this had been a short film I think I would have loved it, however at 2 1/2 hours it was just too much.
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boring absurdist trash
richard_longman11 May 2000
This film is for cinematic masochists only. My girlfriend & I attended a ten pm showing. When we walked out we were convinced it was well after two am (in fact it was just 12:30). When a long film seems twice as long as it was, you know you have a problem. Endless repetition, senseless scenes.

The cinematographer did what he could (some of the B&W images are quite striking), but the director appears to have lost his mind during the eight long years it took him to bring this boring atrocity to light. 1992 to 1998 were hungry years for Russian cinema so one understands his plight.

Only avoid his film, unless you enjoy being held hostage in a dark room, wandering the self-indulgent, sick and senseless imaginings of a lost soul. There are such folk in Russian studies, and by all means, they should go & see the film.

Anyone who with a taste for life or art should avoid it.

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