The K. Effect: Stalin's Editor (El Effecto K. El Montador de Stalin): Montreal Review

Oddball, arty effort demands a certain kind of viewer

Valenti Figueres gives viewers a front-row seat to the birth of the U.S.S.R.

MONTREAL -- Valenti Figueres' The K. Effect: Stalin's Editor imagines a contemporary of Sergei Eisenstein who, while the auteur directed his agitprop masterpieces, became a spy for the Kremlin during the first decades of the U.S.S.R. Presented as a two-hour-long voiceover to footage without sync sound, the film is both willfully challenging and aesthetically rich; although it's unlikely to have much theatrical life beyond fests, a certain breed of film history buff would respond well to the title in arthouse engagements.

The movie focuses on the rediscovered journals and film work of the fictional Maxime Stransky, a childhood friend of Eisenstein who discovered art and cinema alongside him. Footage of the playful young men, surrounded by Dada and Constructivist projects, captures a revolutionary sense that all is possible, an environment in which debates over the nature of cinema -- is its essence Cine-Eye, recording reality, or Cine-Finger, transforming the world? -- could seem like the most important discussion around.

As Eisenstein is beginning a career, a mysterious man visits Stransky, inviting him to work for the government as an "actor-spy." Soon, he's flooding the U.S. with millions of counterfeit dollars and triggering the Great Depression. Assignments in Spain and North Africa follow, tracking real-world history, but the tale's heart is in Hollywood, where Maxime -- under his film-referencing cover name, Max Oppuls -- marries Errol Flynn's niece and nurtures Tinseltown Leftism.

That marriage isn't his first: Maxime already has a wife and child back home, who believe he is as faithful to them as he is to Mother Russia on his years-long assignments. Stransky's guilt over this deception is one of the pic's least convincing ingredients: The memoir form places us too much in his mind, giving us only indirect access to the suffering of those he betrays.

In other arenas, the format is apt. Important encounters are often presented in single, stylized shots -- through distorting glass, as shadows on the wall -- that give them mythic impact while we fill in mundane narrative details ourselves. As the spy's career develops, he comes to see Stalin as a cannibal god whose "Revolution devours its own children"; he observes as history becomes a heap of raw material his bosses can reconfigure to suit their desired narrative.

Figueres has a great deal of fun with artful close-ups, editing tricks and the occasional blast of stylishly processed color film. Continuing to keep tabs on Eisenstein via letters, the film generates sympathy for a genius who was "strangled by Stalinist realism." Though there's rarely the risk of getting carried away with the spy plot itself, Stalin's Editor is a novel evocation of the death of Revolutionary naivete.

Production Company: Los Suenos de la Hormiga Rosa

Cast: Jordi Collardo, Anthony Senen, Valenti Pinot, Marisa Ibanez, Victoria Cuevas, Joan Raga, Jordi Boixaderas

Director-Producer: Valenti Figueres

Screenwriters: Valenti Figueres, Helena Sanchez

Producer: Valenti Figueres

Director of photography: Pablo Garcia

Production designer: Valenti Figueres

Music: Kuis Prado

Costume designers: Fil d'Aram, Sara Recatala, Bea Ibanez

Editor: Carles Candela

No rating, 129 minutes