The Inner Circle (1991)




Director:  Andrei Konchalovsky.

Starring:  Tom Hulce (Ivan Sanshin), Lolita Davidovich (Anastasia), Bob Hoskins (Beria), Aleksandr Zbruyev (Stalin), Feodor Chaliapin Jr. (Prof. Bartnev), Bess Meyer (Katya, 16 years old), Mariya Baranova (Katya, 10 years), Irina Kupchenko (Directress), Vladimir Kuleshov (Colonel Schelkasov), Vsevolod Larionov (General Rumiantsev), Aleksandr Filippenko (Major Khitrov), Yevdokiya Germanova (Governess), Lyubov Matyushina (Sonia Gubelman), Aleksandr Garin (Vasily Morda), Mariya Vinogradova (Fedosia), Aleksandr Lipkov (Aaron Gubelman), Antonina Anokhina (Claudia Morda), Aleksandr Sirin (Voronkin), Oleg Tabakov (Vlasik), Mikhail Kononov (Voroshilov), Aleksandr Feklistov (Bolshakov), Vladimir SteklovM (Chrustalev), Yelena Borzunova (Popova, Girl Officer), Irina Lazareva (Barbara, Waitress), Vera Yekroimova (Kathy, 3 years), Ilya Chanbudanov (Kaganovich), Viktor Balabanov (Molotov), Viktor Uralsky (Kalinin), Valentin Cheryakov (Malenkov), Victor Tardian (Mikoyan), Ivan Teplov (Projectionist), Ivanova Petrova (Tanya), Aleksandr Pashutin (Commandant of the Train), Sergei Artsybashev (Beria's Officer)..

a true David and Batsheba story in the Soviet Union



Moscow, 1939.  Ivan Sanshin works as a film projectionist for the secret service, the KGB.   He is all set to marry his sweetheart Anastasia who lives with him in a basement apartment.  Ivan's two heroes are Stalin and General Bolshakov.  While showing a film for the KGB, Ivan discovers that the projector has stopped and that on the screen the audience sees a picture of Stalin starting to burn.  Ivan is upset and a bit worried.  The wedding takes place and the reception is held in their small apartment with a few neighbors. (Anastasia asks her husband who he loves more, Stalin or her and he tells her Stalin.)

One day someone knocks on the entrance door of the apartment building.  It's the KGB.  They have come for the Jewish resident Gubelman.  Gubelman is accused of having foreign letters and toys of foreign make.  Mr. Gubelman tries to kill himself by smashing his head into the wall of his apartment, but fails.  Mr. Gubelman is taken to jail and their little girl Katya has to stay with the neighbors. 

One day a knock comes for Ivan.  He is told to come with the KGB men.  Ivan is sure he is going to be punished for burning the film at a KGB film screening.  He is taken into the Kremlin and sat before a general.  Ivan is very relieved when he hears that they want him to be a projectionist in the Kremlin.  He will earn twice as much as he did with the KGB.  But then he returns to being nervous when he learns he will be showing films for Stalin and the inner circle of the Kremlin.

The KGB comes for Mrs. Gubelman and then for Katya Gubelman.  The little girl has to go to a state orphanage.  Anastasia wants to adopt Katya, but her husband is afraid of having the daughter of a couple who are enemies of the people in his house.  He says they will have their own babies. 

At his job, Ivan asks what happened to the previous projectionist.  The old projectionist just dropped dead one day.  Ivan is made a bit uneasy by Colonel Schelkasov who inspects everything with an eagle eye.  The Colonel tells Ivan that the number one rule is that there are no questions. 

The time arrives for Ivan to have a screening for Stalin and his boys.  Molotov is the foreign minister, Beria is the head of the KGB and General Bolshakov is the Minister of Defense.  After the filming, Bolshakov tries to approach Stalin but Stalin tells him to "fuck off".    Apparently, Stalin is still very upset with the General for allowing the Japanese to crush the Russian forces in Manchuria.  Ivan performs well and Stalin actually speaks to him after the film showing. 

A purge is set in motion after Beria uncovers the work of counter-revolutionaries.   Some 50,000 people are executed or imprisoned.  At home Ivan takes down a portrait of General Bolshakov.  He becomes very angry at Anastasia when she jokes that maybe the Kremlin will even find that Beria is also a counterrevolutionary. 

 Anastasia is still upset about Katya and she decides to volunteer to work in the orphanage where Katya is kept.  The director of the orphanage, however, discovers Anatasia's deep connection with Katya .  She takes Anastasia aside and slaps her in the face.  She tells Anastasia that she has put her job if not her life in danger by coming to the orphanage under a false pretext.  She could be sent to a labor camp and adds that she will forget Anatasia's very name, if Anastasia will just leave and never come back.  Before Anastasia leaves, she asks the director where they will be sending Katya: to the orphanage of Pokorov south of Moscow.

September 21, 1940.  Ivan says they are safe.  Stalin has signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler.   Things are peaceful and his life is going great.  Ivan is now an officer of the KGB and is  accepted in the Inner Circle.  He moves to a better apartment, the old Gubelman apartment.  Anastasia wants her own child, but she has not become pregnant.  She thinks more and more about Katya.  She travels to the Pokrov Orphanage and gets in to see Katya.  Katya tells her that her parents were bad people because they were enemies of the people.  Katya is very attached to Anastasia, but the little girl is afraid that one day Anastasia will forget about her and she will have no one.  Anastasia promises that she will never leave her. 

Colonel Schelkasov interviews Ivan.  He scolds Ivan for not being outward patriotic.  For instance, Ivan has not denounced anyone.  As Ivan is about to leave, the Colonel asks if he is related to the Gubelmans.  Ivan is shocked and says no.  Then the Colonel shows him his wife's signature on a document saying that she is the aunt of Katya Gubelman.  Ivan is scared and he says he will drop his wife, but the Colonel says he does not want that.  Just watch and control your wife, he says.  Ivan does scold Anastasia.  She has been seeing Katya for about two years and she says she will not stop seeing Katya because she promised the little girl that she would never leave her. 

June 22, 1941.  Hitler attacks the Soviet Union.  Nine weeks later German tanks are just seven miles from the Kremlin.  The Soviet government is being transferred to the Urals.  Ivan will go with them.  They ask him to bring along his wife who will be employed as a waitress.  On the train to the Urals, the couple is separated.  Anastasia is taken to serve Beria and he takes a liking to her.  He gets her drunk and then seduces her.  When she finally returns to Ivan he asks her where is her bra, but she doesn't know.  A soldier comes and takes Anastasia back to the waitress quarters.  Ivan is later told to go back to Moscow because Stalin has decided to stay in Moscow. 

Ivan arrives in Moscow to find much of it burned.  He returns to his old apartment which still stands, but the only one there is the professor.  He denounces his wife to the professor and calls her a slut, but he is obviously crushed. 

A year later Anastasia shows up at their apartment pregnant.  She demands to know why he never wrote her.  (He shows her an entire suitcase full of letters he wrote to her but never sent.)  He tells her that he tried hard to forget her.  Anastasia says she is going to sleep in the dormitory, but her husband begs her to stay saying that it was not her fault, but rather his fault: "I didn't fight."  She tells him he will never guess who is the father, but he tells her that he does not want to know who is the father.  But Anastasia is further alienated when she sees a golden statue of Stalin in his wardrobe.  Anastasia is also still worried about Katya. 

Ivan tells the professor that there is something wrong in Katya's head.  She bit a woman while they were standing in a long line.  The professor responds with a diatribe against the evil Stalin.  But the simple man Ivan is shocked and threatens to turn in the professor.    Ivan returns to his apartment only to find that Anastasia has hung herself.  The KGB paid for the funeral.

Ten winters pass.  One day the 17-year old Katya shows up at the apartment.  At first Ivan refuses to see her saying he sees no one and no one sees him, but after a bit he asks her to come in to his apartment.  The once little girl still loves Stalin.  She says that Stalin saw to it that she was fed and educated by the state.  Katya stays with Ivan overnight but Ivan asks her to leave the next day saying that she could jeopardize his position.  She tells Ivan that he is just so naive.  Ivan gives her his wife's old sweater that she wanted Katya to have and 3,000 rubles he has saved.  But when Ivan comes back from a visit with someone else, he finds Katya gone and the sweater and the 3,000 rubles left behind.  Katya left him a note saying that he should have the sweater as a memory of his wife and that she did not want the money. 

March 1953.  Stalin is dead.  Ivan has to help with crowd control at the public viewing of the body of the deceased.  There is a massive crowd and they start pushing forward toward the trucks blocking the road.  The result is that the people in the front begin to be crushed to death against the trucks or trampled to death.  Ivan is very upset that he and his colleagues cannot stop the dying.  Then all of a sudden he sees Katya in the crowd.  He jumps on top of the crowd and crawls his way over the people to get to Katya.  He is able to force his way with Katya over into a side door well in a building and save her.  But she still wants to see Stalin.  Ivan tells her it will be her death but she says there is no life for her and that she doesn't care if she dies.  Ivan breaks down, hugs Katya tight and calls her his daughter.  He promises Katya that she can live with him in his apartment and that he will take care of her.  Now they both are crying. 

150,000 people were crushed or trampled to death during the viewing of Stalin's body.  Nine months later Beria was arrested and executed. 

And of course, even later, the Soviet leaders denounced Stalin as a cruel and murderous dictator and as an enemy of the people.  All his pictures and statues were taken down and all public notices of him removed.  The name of the city Stalingrad was dropped. 


My wife and I both enjoyed the movie.  Poor Ivan was too simple in his head to see what was really going on.  He could only think of his Soviet heroes and making good in his profession.  He was totally ill-equipped to deal with the stealing of his wife.  In fact, he at first blamed her, did not protest against the situation and did not even mail her the letters he wrote to her.  Anastasia was also a bit simple in the head and she did not immediately see that she was being seduced and did not protest or did not protest strongly against being stolen from her husband for a year.  So here are two people taken advantage of by the Soviet Inner Circle, the Circle of which Ivan was so foolishly proud to be a member. 

After his wife is gone, Ivan does not grab at a change for life even when he is given an opportunity for a  new meaningful life by helping Katya.  He is still too fearful.  It is only when he sees that Katya is about to be killed that he wakes up and agrees to protect Katya for the rest of his life. 

A sad story still manages to have somewhat of a happy ending for Ivan and Katya.  They find a new meaning in life by pledging themselves to one another.  Let's hope that Anastasia from heaven is very pleased. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 


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