State Funeral (2019)


Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB

Netherlands/Lithuania, 2019Atoms & Void, Studio Uljana Kim, Nutprdukce.  Screenplay by Sergey Loznitsa.  Produced by Maria Baker-Choustova, Sergey Loznitsa.  Film Editing by Danielius KokanauskisToronto International Film Festival 2019.


Experimental documentary filmmaker Sergei Loznita provokes a great deal of thought and reflection in the manner that he presents file footage of Joseph Stalin’s funeral in this exceptional work of art. Images that have been cleaned to gleaming perfection are addended with an equally spiffy soundtrack as Loznita arranges and edits down many hours of film taken on the four days of The Great Farewell, endless processions of people weeping as they pass the Red Tsar’s coffin while elsewhere those who cannot attend the ceremonies get together in various public spaces to express their grief. The rush of crowds that caused the deaths of many attending the ceremonies were, curiously, not filmed and their absence is notably felt by anyone watching this with any historical context in mind. What you do observe, however, are expansive long shots of incredible crowds, and even more jarring close-ups of faces reacting to the sight of Stalin’s coffin. The question, of course, is whether they’re grieving the loss of a beloved leader or simply fearing the uncertainty of their daily life in his absence; perhaps it’s merely just being in crowds of people on a solemn occasion that causes this many people to emote as they do, since as history has already made clear to us, life under Stalin wasn’t as rosy as the bright décor that screams out at you in all the colour footage on display here.  This isn’t a film I’d say is enjoyable, necessary, but it is essential and unforgettable.

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