Outside of the Chicago International Film Festival, the most exciting movie to play in town next week is Khrustalyov, My Car!, which screens Saturday and Wednesday at the Siskel Center’s Aleksei Guerman retrospective. To my knowledge, the film hasn’t shown here since its weeklong run at Facets in 2000, nor has it been released in the States on DVD—who knows when we’ll have another chance to see it at all.
The movie is an exquisite comic nightmare set during the final days of the Stalin era. As in My Friend Ivan Lapshin, which played last weekend, Guerman casts a strong atmosphere of antinostalgia, moving his camera unpredictably through the stark period environment, so as to make the past seem grander and more imposing than the present. Given the decentralized approach, Khrustalyov can be especially challenging if you’re unfamiliar with Soviet history. If you’re planning to see it this week, I recommend reading up on the “doctors’ plot” of 1952, which factors heavily in the narrative, and checking out J. Hoberman’s well-researched essay on the movie that Film Comment published in 1999. I’d say that Hoberman’s piece contains spoilers, but the film is disconcerting even if you know what’s going to happen.