Le Divan de Staline (Stalin’s Couch in English) is an ambitious film by Fanny Ardant, one of the most important figures of French cinema. The film takes place during the final years of Stalin’s life, as the Soviet dictator rests a few days in a luxurious and isolated residence with his long-term mistress, Lydia.
This film, as do many European features, is a film where the action is mainly moved forward by the atmosphere and the dialog between the main characters. This contrasts with American film culture, where most movies are pushed forward by external action, such as a dramatic or action-packed event. This strategy has two main advantages: first, it becomes easier to capture the audience’s attention through image, sound or emotional stimulus; second, it masks the quality of the cast and of the dialogues.
Thus, in films that don’t follow this strategy, there’s an enormous burden on the actors and on the dialogues. And this is Le Divan de Staline ‘s greatest strength. Emmanuelle Seigner and Gérard Depardieu are sensational. Their on-screen chemistry, glances, movements are something beautiful to behold and clearly tells us we’re watching two masters at work. Plus, Lydia, as a strong woman in a men’s world, is a very compelling character.
The plot, in general, is entertaining and interesting. I particularly like the idea of Stalin trying, out of curiosity, psychoanalysis. Of course, as the dictator he is, he does so with his rules and while always maintaining the control of the situation. Also, the scenery is stunning. Curiously, the film was shot in a Portuguese palace-turned-hotel, the Buçaco Palace Hotel.
Overall, Le Divan de Staline is a good film and, although it could certainly be better, I really enjoyed it. The acting, in particular, is outstanding.
PS: This film is also in the Sophia section since it’s a French-Portuguese co-production.