Directed by Rustem Abdrashitov.
Starring Ekaterina Rednikova, Nurzhuman Ikhtymbayev, Bakhtiar Khoja.
Grand Prix International Film Festival in Belgrade, Serbia, 2009
Grand Prix International Film Festival 'East-West Classic and avant-garde ", Russia, 2008
Rustem Abdrashev's The Gift to Stalin feels like a throwback to another era—and that's got nothing to do with the film being set during the lead-up to the USSR's celebration of Stalin's birthday in 1949, when ethnic and political undesirables were shipped off to remote regions like that of Kazakhstan. Surprisingly, this historical epic contains a very-'70s, spare-no-expense-for-art studio aesthetic (its Kazakh producer is an oil and gas man with a private film company) and an engagingly slow-moving, highly detailed narrative that isn't very much in vogue these days. It's a movie a guy like Terence Malick would appreciate—one that lulls rather than forces us into another time, a different world.
"Only his fear gave him a feeling of life," the off-screen narrator says in voiceover about his younger self, a Jewish boy named Sashka (Dalen Schintermirov) who is shipped off to a no-man's land with his grandfather, who dies along the way. When the sardine-tight cattle car makes a stop to deposit the dead, Sashka is hidden away among the bodies—and subsequently rescued by the railroad worker Kasym (Nurzhuman Ikhtimbaev in a riveting performance), a gentle giant of few words tasked with corpse collecting and who resembles what Tom Hardy's Bronson might have looked like had he been dug up from a graveyard himself. The Jewish Sashka is soon adopted into the Kazakh (Muslim) Kasym's makeshift family, which also includes the Russian (Christian) Verka, the wife of a political traitor, and the Polish (Jewish) Yezhi, a doctor. ...
By Lauren Wissot in Slant Magazine