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In the former Soviet Union, Repentance was as much an event as a film: one of the most important of the censored films to come off the shelf with the new cultural liberalization of the late 1980s, it was the first to deal with the terrors of the Stalin era. This it does in an oblique but unmistakable way typical of Abuladze, whose art is one of symbolism and surrealism. The central character is a parody of a dictator with attributes of Stalin, Hitler, and Mussolini. Abuladze's allegorical parable is at once specific to the memory of the actual historical horrors, and general to a Kafkaesque collective memory of tyranny.

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