Stalin’s Wife Documentary

Stalin's Wife movie graphic

By Slava Tsukerman

This week the documentary “Stalin’s wife”, that had successful theatrical release years ago, finally became available on AMAZON.

Here is the short story of the film. About ten years ago I’ve got a telephone call from Moscow, from my friend, a Russian film producer.

It was not surprising. I have lived in the US only since 1976. I was born in Russia, studied filmmaking in Russia and started my film director’s career over there. I have a lot of friends in Russia.

This producer called me not for the first time. She already made me several proposals to shoot Russian films, but I always refused it. After years of American life I felt that I didn’t know modern Russia, didn’t understand Russian audiences and, besides, had no desire to make a Russian film.

This time, though, the proposal seemed to be too tempting. The producer invited me to direct a documentary about Joseph Stalin’s wife, Nadezhda Aliluyeva. I always was mesmerized by the Stalin’s character. In Soviet time it was completely impossible to get any true material about life of this extraordinary dictator, the person, who in time of my childhood was considered to be a semi-god. There were a lot of mysterious secrets in his life.

Not long before this Russian proposal, HBO made a feature film about Stalin. Stalin was played by Robert Duval, a wonderful actor. One of the interviewers asked Duval, why, he thinks, Stalin killed so many people, including his closest friends and relatives? Duval answered that he couldn’t understand it and the director of the film couldn’t explain it to him.

Well, prior to that moment I’ve already read dozens of books about Stalin, and I thought that I could answer this question. But that creators of the HBO film couldn’t do it, indicated how mysterious was the figure of Stalin.

The chance to interview those of Stalin’s relatives, who were still alive and to gain entrance to Soviet archives, that still hid a lot of secrets, was incredibly seductive to me. I agreed to direct, only on the condition that we’d make two variants of film: one in Russian for Russian audiences and one in English for English speaking audiences.

To make two variants we needed more money then the Russian producer could spend. I’ve called to Robert Field, who was an Executive Producer of my earlier film Liquid Sky. Robert liked the idea and agreed to finance American version of the documentary. Stalin’s Wife became a Russian-American coproduction.

I made a lot of documentaries in my life. Usually it takes me several months. Making Stalin’s Wife took me more then two years. It was impossible to finish this work because we kept making new discoveries, finding new documents to shoot, new people to interview.

Nadezhda married Joseph Stalin at the age of sixteen. Stalin was twenty three years her senior. Throughout their fourteen years of family life, Nadezhda stood by as Stalin was transformed from the ordinary revolutionary into an all powerful  dictator. In these fourteen years Nadezhda changed tremendously.

Stalin’s wife, Nadezhda Aliluyeva

Making this documentary was in a sense detective work. Up to this day historians continue the heated debate as to whether Nadezhda had killed herself or was murdered by Stalin. There are witnesses of both versions of events, who are absolutely sure that they are right. There are documents, proving both versions.

Most of the events of Nadezhda’s life are as enigmatic as her death. Some witnesses insist that teenage Nadezhda married Stalin, because she fall in love with a revolutionary hero, others testify that Stalin raped her, and then had no choice but marrying the girl. Such controversy was involved in the descriptions of practically every event of Nadezhda’s life.

Where was the truth?

When the film was released theatrically most of the American critics praised it.

Andrew Sarris of New York Observer included it in his list of 10 best documentaries of the year. He wrote:

“If you have the slightest curiosity about the people and the period, ‘Stalin’s Wife’ is mandatory viewing.” 

More opinions of critics can be found on the film’s website.

Now the documentary finally came to AMAZON.

Here is the trailer.


Updated: January 9, 2017 — 11:34 pm © 2016