MOSCOW -- The world according to Mikhail Gorbachev is now playing at neighborhood theaters.

"More Light," a 90-minute documentary, lauds Lenin's "favorite" ideologist, Nikolai Bukharin, vilifies Stalin's purges and cult of personality and praises Khrushchev for his "honesty" -- though, the narrator says, "he sometimes made a fool of himself."

A filmmaker named Babok is cited as the creator of the documentary, but Gorbachev is its true auteur, its Cecil B. DeMille. "More Light," above all, is a kind of visual survey of the way the Soviet leader sees the history of the Revolution and its betrayals.

More than shedding a full and unforgiving light on 70 years of Bolshevik history, the film seems to select moments and figures of the past that are now useful to Gorbachev's reform movement. For instance, Bukharin, a supporter of the liberal New Economic Policy (NEP) of the 1920s who was sent to his death by Stalin in 1938, is a kind of historical endorsement for Gorbachev's own economic flexibility.

Subjects missing from the survey are some of the very ones that have caused Gorbachev to bristle and lecture in interviews: the war in Afghanistan, the repression of religious and political dissent.

Films have always been essential political documents in the Soviet Union. On a concrete wall outside the Rossiya movie theater, Lenin's dour face looms over the marquee. And under his portrait is his well-known rubric: "Of all our arts, the most important is the cinema."

Under Gorbachev, Soviet audiences have flocked to several films that have tackled contemporary and historical problems. "Is It Easy to Be Young?" showed young people disillusioned with the state and suffering from alcohol and drug addiction. Tengiz Abuladze's "Repentance," which is playing now in U.S. theaters, is a thinly disguised allegory about the Stalinist "great terror."

For "More Light," every row is filled. Everyone remains wrapped in bulky coats and fur hats. The lights go down. There are no coming attractions. The narrator, stage actor Mikhail Ulyanov, intones, "Everyone is sick of the silence. We are going to try to talk about the past with more honesty, more light."

Lenin and allegiance to Leninism are at the core of the film. And after staring long at his portrait, we hear, "With these following people, Lenin made the revolution . . ." Suddenly, images that were rarely, if ever, seen in recent years, flash on the screen: Bukharin, Trotsky, Kamenev, all figures who were destroyed by Stalin.

History is central to politics in the Soviet Union, and those who follow these developments have learned more from newspapers, journals, books and even Gorbachev's speech on history last November than from "More Light." But there is something about seeing it on the screen that is deeply affecting.

The NEP period, which featured private enterprise, is celebrated as an economic cornucopia with plump people in the streets buying goods at well-stocked markets. "The sound of Russian rubles, real money, that's what NEP was," the narrator says.

The film describes Lenin's death and his last testament in which he described Bukharin as "the most powerful and intellectual of the party's theoreticians," though "capable of straying from pure Marxism." Trotsky is "the most capable" but is "too proud and self-confident." Stalin is "rude," and Lenin "is not sure that {Stalin} will use power as carefully as he should."

Stalin's reign is portrayed in a series of terrifying images: crosses being knocked off the top of churches; banners calling for the execution of "spies"; peasants, poets and, "most important," hundreds of military leaders executed during the purges because of Stalin's paranoia about insidious "foreign influences."

A zeppelin decorated with an enormous image of Stalin floats across the screen. "People believed in his infallible wisdom," narrator Ulyanov says. "Unfortunately, even today, people remain who don't acknowledge how much pain he caused the people and the party . . . the time meant arrests, executions, knocks on the door." Stalin's purge of the military, Ulyanov says, left the country unprepared for war with the Nazis and "that explains millions of deaths."

"Kashmar bwil," says an older woman in the fourth row. "It was a nightmare."

In "More Light," however, the nightmare periods never last for long. The film is skillfully balanced, not only by images of Soviet heroism in World War II and a countless series of shots of economic triumphs (dams, yaks, wheat, etc.) but also by a cloying cuteness. The director is fond of long shots of children playing in the bath and Young Pioneers trying in vain to knot their kerchiefs properly.

Nikita Khrushchev is praised for his secret speech at the Twentieth Party Congress in 1956 that exposed Stalin's crimes to the people for the first time. But as the film shows him grinning and holding a huge, wriggling lamb during a public ceremony, he is jabbed for swearing too often and occasionally making "a fool" of himself.

When the first shot of Leonid Brezhnev flashes on the screen, people in the audience begin snickering. Even while the camera pans lovingly over vast apartment blocks, dams and energy plants built during Brezhnev's 18 years as general secretary, everyone knows what is coming next.

As an aging Brezhnev is pinned with a chestful of medals -- even for his literary achievements -- he is mocked for his self-celebration and incessant ceremonies. "We became too used to orchestras, celebrations, put-ons. We developed a parade mentality."

Echoing Gorbachev's speeches, the movie describes the corruption and stagnation of the Brezhnev era as a "precrisis" condition. "It's not that we're not a gifted people," Ulyanov says, "but something has held us back."

Soon "More Light," which has so far been a collection of black-and-white or tepidly colored newsreels, explodes into peacock Technicolor, a transition reminiscent of the one in "The Wizard of Oz."

Now there are luminous images of the era of reform: sparkling Red Square, diligent schoolchildren tapping away on computers, secretaries of various officials diligently answering letters from "the people," Americans and Soviets exchanging hugs, endlessly lovely fields of golden grain.

There is some footage of the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl and grainy shots of the violent protests 14 months ago in Alma Ata against the ouster of Brezhnev's crony and native Kazakh, Dinmukhamed Kunaev.

Curiously, the film never even shows or mentions directly Yuri Andropov, Konstantin Chernenko and, most obviously, the film's shadow producer, Gorbachev himself.

"We have to get away from this business of, you know, 'On the one hand there are glorious achievements, and on the other mass murder,' " says liberal historian Yuri Afanasyev, interviewed this week in his office. "What's the point of that?"

Afanasyev, director of the Historical Archives Institute, says the emphasis in "More Light" is on leaders and never on the fallibility of the country as a whole. And this, says Afanasyev, makes for a "lying film. All these things can't only be the fault of several people."

On the screen, Ulyanov says, "Our course is clear. More socialism, more democracy, more light."

The credits roll and the audience files into Pushkin Square.

Outside, a married couple in their early thirties, Sergei and Tatyana Prezgalov, stop and offer their view of "More Light."

"By now we know a lot of it," Sergei says, "but we've never seen it on film." Tatyana smiles and says, "To tell you the truth, I didn't like it much. I wanted more. I expect more."