26 September 2008 | mikebailey823
An intelligent examination of "freedom"
What's most remarkable about "The Russian Quesion" is the sophistication of the its portrayal of the conflicts of interest that surface even in a so-called free society. The political and cultural taboos that force people to tell convenient lies rather than interrogate conventional wisdom are laid open in the film, and treated with intelligence and nuance. Given the failures of the "free" press during the run-up to the Iraq War and the Bush administration's trampling of civil liberties in the name of the "war" on terrorism over the past seven years, the film's concerns are strikingly topical even 60 years after its creation.
Obviously, there would have been much to criticize about a USSR still under Stalin's iron grip in the late 1940s, but just because the film's politics happen to suit the propaganda needs of the Soviets (how could they not?) doesn't mean they're irrelevant or incorrect as criticisms of U.S. society which, then as now, makes extravagant, and sometimes hollow, claims to its liberty and democratic vigor.
I give a great deal of credit to the director, Mikhail Romm (a well-known and able filmmaker who managed to make intelligent work like this even under the constraints of Stalinism), for his ability to maintain his focus on a critique of these claims of Western society rather than get bogged down in praising the USSR - a virtual requirement for most Stalinist film-making. For example, when the journalist makes a trip to Russia, I fully expected to get rosy and extended depictions of life in a "socialist paradise". But Romm shrewdly avoids excessive paeans to socialism, largely by limiting this section of the film to a brief montage showing parades, factories, and other stereotypical hallmarks of Soviet publicity. He then immediately returns the film to New York and the reporter's ongoing dilemma: telling the truth as he sees it - even if it means ending his career - or relating politically expedient falsehoods about Soviet society that will put him in good stead with the powers that be.
In sum, I found "The Russian Question" to be a good deal more penetrating and thoughtful, as an analysis of "freedom," than any corresponding document I've seen produced in the West about totalitarian socialism. Virtually every example of this kind of cinema I've encountered that emanated from Hollywood during the Cold War tends to be more or less hysterical and simple-minded in its depiction of the wicked, evil Commies.