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‘The Death of Stalin’ is a first-rate Soviet satire starring Steve Buscemi

"The Death of Stalin" comes from the mind of Armando Iannucci, the man behind "The Thick of It," "In the Loop" and "Veep." Photo Credit: Nicola Dove

‘The Death of Stalin’

Directed by Armando Iannucci

Starring Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Jeffrey Tambor, Olga Kurylenko

Rated R

Playing at IFC Center and AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13

When it comes to contemporary crafters of political satire, Armando Iannucci exists in an exalted realm all his own.

“The Death of Stalin” in many respects stands as the apotheosis of a career that has gifted the world the journey from “The Thick of It” to “In the Loop” and “Veep.”

Starring a robust ensemble of mostly British and American actors, including Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev and Simon Russell Beale as Lavrentiy Beria, the movie chronicles the behind-the-scenes machinations behind a messy power struggle in the wake of Josef Stalin’s death in 1953.

It is unabashedly deadpan and laced with absurdism, incorporating precise comic touches that trade on Iannucci’s gift for spotlighting the fundamental ridiculousness of the human condition.

The collective foolishness on display, even among future heads of the Soviet Union and other giants of history, is especially apparent in a sequence in which Khrushchev and many other noteworthy historical figures struggle to comprehend Stalin’s death and move his body. It’s there in the bickering and razzing over things like Khrushchev’s pajamas or efforts to find the right girl for a propaganda photo.

Comedy is a great, unifying force in Iannucci’s hands, the tool with which he undermines the notion that those in positions of power are any better suited to them than the rest of us.

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