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Alexei Guerman's mad, brilliant sequel to My Friend Ivan Lapshin (1982) was begun when the Soviet Union still existed and completed in 1998 with finishing money from France. Set in 1953, during the last days of Stalin's regime, it has a narrative of sorts—the central character is a brain surgeon and former alcoholic Red Army general who's sent to the gulag during the anti-Semitic “doctors purge” and released in a last-ditch effort to save Stalin—but one generally experiences it more as a visionary nightmare. Filmed in high-contrast, deep-focus black and white, in cluttered, claustrophobic interiors and snowy exteriors, often in long takes and with a moving camera, it suggests The Magnificent Ambersons, especially in the way its baroque mise en scene is organized around a subjective camera and various activities in the foreground. But its overall ambience certainly isn't nostalgic as with the Welles film; it leaves one with a corrosive and unforgettable whiff of the Stalinist era.

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