As a spry centenarian, Russian cartoonist Boris Efimov (who died at 109) had lived under, and in sometimes frightening proximity to, three consecutive nexuses of power as his country wound through Czarist, Soviet and federal rule. His reluctant connection with the state-sponsored media that employed him to lampoon political targets, including dubiously nominated “enemies of the people,” took its cruelest turn after Stalin ordered the execution of his beloved brother Mikhail Koltsov, inspiration for Karkov in Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. Effectively blacklisted afterward as the relative of a dissident, Efimov was nonetheless spared the Gulags and eventually—through complicated machinations also likely guided by Stalin, who was a great fan of his work—reinstated as Pravda’s top cartoonist. Kevin McNeer’s utterly absorbing peek behind the Red Curtain investigates this complex relationship between Russia’s greatest political cartoonist and the dreaded dictator who earned his tremulous but abiding respect.

*This film is in Russian with English subtitles

Directed by Kevin McNeer

(100min, Russia/Netherlands/US, 2009)

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