By Bob Kotyk
The death of Joseph Stalin seems to have been so unthinkable that numbness and shock are almost all that can be gleaned from the faces of the dozens of mourners as they gather in plazas, pause from their work at job sites, or offer up bouquets in State Funeral, expert exhumer Sergei’s Loznitsa’s latest documentary that uses rare archival footage captured in the days leading up to the funeral of the recently departed leader. Even the state media announcers, heard over top of images of mourners, seem to be caught in a state of disbelief. “Our father passed away: our hearts are full of sadness,” a benumbed newsreader intones over a loudspeaker as the masses gather to hear the latest.
A companion to last year’s The Trial, which repurposed footage of Stalinist show trials into an epic of totalitarian legal verbiage, State Funeral spins a web of images from a moment so earth-shattering that it seems to reach beyond language. And as in the previous film, so forceful and diligently assembled is the footage that it almost feels like lived experience. Subtle sound design by Vladimir Golovnitski and period music build up a sense of the world caught on the brink of changing forever, while the film’s soft colour lends an air of extravagance to the proceedings, not to mention the procession. Loznitsa’s massively ambitious oeuvre, which attempt to process Eastern European history through cinematic conjurings of one kind or another, has a new contender for most engrossing entry.