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An Ordinary Execution (Une Execution Ordinaire) (12A)

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Review byMatthew Turner26/11/2010

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 101 mins

Emotionally engaging, frequently tense drama with a strong script and superb performances from Marina Hands and Andre Dussolier.

What's it all about?
Written and directed by Marc Dugain (adapting his own novel), An Ordinary Execution is set in 1950s Russia, at a time when a deeply paranoid Stalin (Andre Dussolier) is imprisoning all Jewish doctors, convinced that they are masterminding an evil conspiracy against him. Marina Hands plays Doctor Anna Atlina, who is trying to get pregnant by her Jewish husband Vassily (Edouard Baer) so hard that the neighbours are complaining whilst having to constantly fend off sexual advances and threats from one of her colleagues at work.

When she's arrested, Atlina thinks it's because her sleazy colleague has denounced her, so she's astonished when she's ushered in to see Stalin himself and he asks her to become his personal physician. However, Stalin requests that she keep their arrangement a secret and hints that her husband's life will be in danger if she ever accidentally lets the information slip, so Atlina tells Vassily that she has a lover and asks for a divorce, in order to protect him.

The Good
Marina Hands (Lady Chatterley) is excellent as Atlina, generating powerful chemistry with Baer so that we clearly understand that they are each other's reason to live and that the joy their relationship brings them allows them to deal with the harsh realities of the time they live in. Dussolier is equally good as Stalin (“I don't look like my portraits”), or rather, as the version of Stalin that he shows to Atlina, since the film is entirely from her point of view.

The Great
Dugain is superb at building both tension and paranoia, particularly in the idea that Atlina's seemingly kindly neighbours could denounce her just for having noisy sex. Similarly, the scenes between Stalin and Atlina are simultaneously touching and chilling, in that it's obvious that Stalin is in pain and reaching out to her, yet she and the audience are constantly aware that he could turn on her at any moment.

The script is well written and moves easily from heartbreaking romantic drama, to chilling tension, to moments of laugh-out-loud humour, such as Stalin trash-talking Truman or his henchman proudly discussing his grandson, Vladimir Putin.

Worth seeing?
An Ordinary Execution is an impressively directed, superbly written and well acted French drama that's by turns alarmingly suspenseful and powerfully moving. Recommended.

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An Ordinary Execution (Une Execution Ordinaire) (12A)
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