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ST.PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) - Alexei German, a Russian film director best known for his works offering a bitter view of life in the Soviet Union under dictator Josef Stalin, died Thursday, his son said.

German, 74, died of heart failure at a hospital in his hometown, St. Petersburg, his son, Alexei German Jr., said in a blog post.

German came to prominence internationally for his 1983 production "My Friend Ivan Lapshin" about a police investigator battling a criminal gang. Censors blocked the film's release for two years because of its realistic depiction of Soviet life in the wake of the Stalinist terror of the late 1930s.

The release of the film heralded the era of reforms launched by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, and was aired on Soviet television in 1986 to much clamor and public debate.

The production of "Khrustalyov, My Car," a grotesque narrative centered on Stalin's final days, endured multiple delays due to Russia's post-Soviet economic meltdown. It received a hostile reception at its Cannes premiere in 1998, but later attained cult status.

In a 2012 article, critic Anton Dolin observed that "to many Russian critics, cinephiles, and viewers, German is their national cinema's foremost figure after (Andrei) Tarkovsky."

"Others insist that, in fact, he is more important and more original," Dolin wrote.

German's output was typically starkly shot and marked in its emphasis on mood and oppressive atmosphere over traditional linear narrative. His films are unified by an unflinchingly critical view of Soviet history.

His first solo directorial work, "Trial on The Road"- made in 1971 but barred from release until 1986- was based on a war story by his father, a famous novelist, and told the story of an escaped prisoner of war compelled to win back the trust of his comrades during World War II.

Although structurally conventional, the film drew the authorities' disapproval for German's unusual decision to make a hero of a character initially viewed as a Nazi collaborator.

Alexei German Jr., who is also a celebrated director, said work on his father's sixth and final film was all but done.

"The film `It Is Hard to Be a God' is in effect finished. All that remains is the audio dubbing. Everything else is ready. It will be completed in the foreseeable future," he said.

German Jr. said his father worked on the film despite his failing health.

"The making of the film was long and painful," German Jr. said in a post on Ekho Mosky radio station's website. "It was made without government money."

Even before its release, the film has generated a lot of public expectations and intense discussion, with some seeing it as a stinging satire on President Vladimir Putin's Russia, full of grim predictions for the future.

The Lenfilm studio, with which German worked over his entire career, said his funeral would take place Sunday in St. Petersburg.

German is also survived by his wife, Svetlana Karmalita.

___

Peter Leonard contributed from Almaty, Kazakhstan.


(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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