The promotion of a naive Soviet film projectionist to Stalin’s personal entourage changes the young man’s life forever. Based on a true story. [ The Inner Circle credits: Dir: Andrei Konchalovsky/ Tom Hulce, Lolita Davidovich, Bob Hoskins/ 122 min/ Drama/ Power Worship]
The year is 1939. A Soviet film projectionist is suddenly taken from his home by police. But he’s not on his way to prison for some unknown indiscretion, as he imagines. He’s been summoned to run a projector in the Kremlin so that Stalin can watch a film.
The projectionist is terrified. But he’s also delighted to be of use to the man whom the entire country sees as its savior and protector. He performs his duties well, and is promoted to become Stalin’s personal projectionist. After that, his life changes completely, but not for the better.
The stakes are now life and death in every corner of his existence. He must be wary of making stray comments, of associating with questionable people, of doing or saying anything susceptible to an unfavorable interpretation. Matters become complicated when his wife is indiscreet enough to take pity on the orphaned child of Jewish neighbors, who were taken away for “treasonous” activities. There is a price to be paid for his wife’s kindness. Soon the KGB is demanding that he spy on friends and loved ones. He can trust no one and no one can trust him. Such is the nature of arbitrary power that it divides people. And indeed, in the end, all of the central characters in the film are, one way or another, alone.
The projectionist is gradually transformed from enthusiastic and idealistic Stalinist to cynical survivor, and his experience is symbolic of the Soviet experience as a whole. In the beginning, his faith in “the Master,” i.e., Stalin, is honest and unlimited. State propaganda has had its effect. But as he gets closer to the “inner circle,” his life becomes filled with fear, lies, and pain. And yet, his worship of Stalin is so complete and his fear of denunciation so great that he cannot admit even to himself how unhappy his life has become. Stalin is not just a fearful master but has actually become part of his conscience. It’s spooky to see this in action, but of course half of what keeps tyrants in power is power-worshippers.
The Inner Circle is an interesting though necessarily downbeat film, as this true story of one man’s life as meat for the socialist meat-grinder is less than uplifting. Tom Hulce is terrific in the leading role as the naive projectionist. The entire film was shot on location and employed a largely Russian-born cast, giving it a strongly realistic flavor. This film has the ring of truth.
” The Inner Circle is history on a human scale and filmmaking of a high order.”
“A study of prolonged political naivete and its unhappy consequences.”
–New York Times