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Children of the Revolution

Rated R, 99 min. Directed by Peter Duncan. Starring Judy Davis, Sam Neill, F. Murray Abraham, Richard Roxburgh, Rachel Griffiths, Geoffrey Rush, Russell Kiefel.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., May 23, 1997

What if Joseph Stalin had spawned a son before his untimely death? And what if this son were to be raised in a revolutionary household by a Party princess mom and then let loose to run according to his genetic program? And then, what if all these best-laid plans went astray? The Boys From Brazil it's not, but this debut feature from Australian director Duncan is still a wonderful sociopolitical experiment, dripping with sarcasm and bizarre, oddball humor, which make it all the more potent. Bracketed by faux documentary-style interviews, Children of the Revolution begins with Australian Communist Party zealot Joan Fraser (Davis, perfectly cast) trying to marshal her disenfranchised (and thoroughly bourgeois) troops to revolution in 1949 Sydney. No one in her tiny circle, it seems, has a will as powerful as Joan's, not even Welch (Rush), her forlorn and lovestruck right-hand man and best friend. When Joan is invited to Moscow to meet Big Joe himself, she ends up falling victim to his inconsiderable charms and making love to him -- whereupon Stalin promptly keels over, a smile on his face and presumably the echo of a song in his unbeating heart. Nine months later, Joan (now married to Welch out of necessity) gives birth to young Joe (played as an adult by Roxburgh), who grows up in a rabid Communist environment, only to exhibit all the wrong symptoms (he has a “jail fetish,” for one thing). Duncan's comedy runs the gamut from broad to fiercely pointed, though it's always fairly focused. A scene featuring Abraham's Stalin crooning “I Get a Kick Out of You” to a nonplused Joan while a googly-eyed Khrushchev and assorted other Party demagogues enact a stunningly inept chorus line in the background is unadulterated Zen comedy of the highest order. Another subtly cerebral gag is Joe, Jr.'s penchant for siding with (and eventually assuming control of) the Australian police forces -- even going so far as to marry a comely sergeant. The joke -- that young Joe is more like his father than mom Joan could ever hope to admit, that he's his daddy's boy but in all the wrong ways -- is a good one, and carries Children of the Revolution through a number of weak patches, notably an unnecessary subplot involving Sam Neill as the Australian/Soviet double agent Nine, a fellow who is convinced that Joe, Jr. is not Stalin's progeny, but his own. Duncan would have done well to jettison the whole bit, but Rush, Roxburgh, and particularly Davis, are a perfectly cast commie triumvirate. Davis' role requires her to grow from youthful party animal to aged, bitter Mother of the Revolution in 90 or so minutes, and she pulls it off brilliantly. Children of the Revolution may not be for everyone's taste; its humor is shot through with more than a bit of dark venom, but it's never overly malicious or strident. Instead, Duncan charms you with roses and rhetoric, and then beats you senseless with a rubber chicken truncheon. Clever.
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