Andrei Konchalovsky, now 84 years old, directed his first feature film, The First Teacher, in 1965. Surprising as it may seem, his latest film, Dear Comrades! (Dorogie tovarishchi), deals with a similar theme: a Communist Party faithful forced to confront her trust in the system. In Dear Comrades!, Yuliya Vysotskaya plays Lyuda, a Communist Party true believer and local official in Novocherkassk, a city near the border with Ukraine.
Being a party official has advantages, such as preferential food allowances. However, it also comes with certain responsibilities. This is usually not a problem when all you are doing is carrying out orders from those above you. But then an incident occurs that shakes up Lyuda’s life.
Dear Comrades! is based on a true event, one of many that the government of the Soviet Union tried to cover up. In June 1962, workers at the Budyonny Electric Locomotive Factory, which produced train engines, organized a strike to protest a cut in wages and increased production quotas that came at the same time as a nationwide increase in the prices of meat and butter.
Although Dear Comrades! is a fictional narrative, the details of what became known as the Novocherkassk Massacre are all too real and are faithfully portrayed, including the secret burial of the victims. Those wanting to know more about the historical basis for the film should check out this article.
When government troops open fire on the striking workers, killing about 30 of them and wounding dozens more, Lyuda can hardly believe it. The Communist Party is supposed to protect workers, not attack them. Her dilemma is sharply intensified when she realizes that her own daughter was in the crowd when the shooting started, and she is now missing.
This is the third time that one of Konchalovsky’s films has been chosen to represent Russia for the Academy Awards. The first time was in 2002 for House of Fools and the second in 2016 for Paradise, which also starred Vysotskaya.
Konchalovsky did direct the 1989 Hollywood clunker Tango & Cash. Among aficionados of international cinema, he is best-known for writing the 3½-hour epic Andrei Rublev. And, in 1997, he won a Primetime Emmy for writing and directing The Odyssey.