A film that equates criminals who rape and murder without mercy or regret with the Communist Party's actions during 72 years is already a sensation before it opens at Moscow movie theaters.
The new documentary, "This Is No Way to Live," by Stanislav Govorukhin, breaks most of the last taboos left in the glasnost era.
Govorukhin rolls the tragedies of Communist rule, the humiliation of Soviet life and his personal indignation at the fate of his country into an indictment so powerful it would seem that authorities would have to ban the film.
But the authorities have changed.
The Foreign Ministry staged a screening. Moscow City Council deputies have pledged to bring the movie to cinemas. Govorukhin said President Mikhail S. Gorbachev himself proclaimed the film "wonderful" after a private viewing.
"For the life of me, I can't understand how Gorbachev could like it," he said, sounding distressed.
"This Is No Way to Live" begins with graphic scenes of rape and murder in a style familiar to viewers of Leningrad TV's "600 Seconds," a daily program that frequently shows grisly crime scenes.
Then it moves into Part 2: "Criminals in Power."
Beginning with the 1918 murder of Czar Nicholas II and other members of the royal Romanov family, it presents viewers with one Bolshevik crime against the people after another.
It documents the mass slaughter of the bourgeoisie under Lenin; the artificially created famines; the tens of millions of deaths and imprisonments under Stalin; the destruction of churches and liquidation of the priesthood; the distortion of people's consciousness with ideological propaganda; and the impoverishment of the vast, rich country through idiotic mismanagement.
The scenes shift next to the "disgusting humiliation" of everyday Soviet life, with its lines, shortages, poverty and moral bankruptcy, and the crooked bodies created by such conditions and "70 years of the wrong genetic policy."
"The crimes of Hitler's regime cannot begin to measure up to all this in scale and cruelty, especially if you consider that it was done against one's own people," Govorukhin says in the film's narration.
Against footage of the post-World War II Nurnburg trials of Nazi leaders, he raises the prospect of a similar national trial of Communists. He says the organizers of a crime should bear the brunt of punishment.
The Moscow News weekly predicted last week that Govorukhin would be accused of "malice, mockery and painting everything black" by "the very people whom he proposes for a national trial."
Judging by two preliminary screenings and commentaries beginning to appear in the Soviet press, however, it is mainly Govorukhin's unrelieved gloom, not his political views, that upsets audiences.
One viewer at the Foreign Ministry showing remarked that "we all already know we can't live this way. What we need to know is how we should live."
Govorukhin, a tall, balding man with a deep voice, offered no apologies for his downbeat views at question-and-answer sessions after the screenings.
"Personally, I'm a pessimist," he said. "I have no basis to think everything will get better quickly. There's no one in this whole country except absolute idiots who doesn't think tomorrow will be worse. And when people have no hope, and God has been taken away from them, what can you expect?"
Govorukhin, well-known as a journalist and director of commercial films, said he made "This Is No Way to Live" mainly as a "letter to the Supreme Soviet." He wants wide distribution for the film, but he was most concerned it be seen and understood by the country's leaders.
Soviet lawmakers already have had several screenings, and chances are most will see the film as its fame grows. Two of Moscow's biggest cinemas have also committed themselves to showing it.
Members of the Russian Congress saw the film earlier this week, and its influence has already been felt on the floor.
A deputy from the Russian town of Saratov quoted Govorukhin from the podium on Wednesday, saying, "If a country is this rich and the people are this poor, that's a crime."
Another deputy noted that the film "threw in our face the horrible but honest truth. We can understand it differently but we all agree: This is no way to live."
Govorukhin said legislators told him the documentary made conservative deputies more conservative and radicals more radical, but in all it managed to move the center slightly toward more reformist views. "If that's so, then it has played its role," he said.