STALIN: Loznitsa's new film has several levels of gazes that organizes what the audience sees. A timely warning.
Melita Zajc
Melita Zajc is a media anthropologist and philosopher. Regular contributor to Modern Times Review.
Published date: November 15, 2019

State Funeral

(ГОСУДАРСТВЕННЫЕ ПОХОРОНЫ)

Sergei Loznitsa

Sergei LoznitsaMaria ChoustovaUljana Kim

The Netherlands, Lithuania

The film has no voice-over, no instructions whatsoever about how to read it. It offers spectacularly beautiful images of people in motion. They are people of all ages and races, professions and social ranks, huge masses of people, moving harmoniously, at the same pace, in the same direction. Like a calm flow. Quietly. No voice is heard apart from the sounds of shoes creaking as they touch the ground, monotonous tramping, making the silence even more tangible. These human bodies and faces have no name, apart from those who are invited to speak.

The director

Like everything in State Funeral by Sergei Loznitsa and composed out of the recordings made during the ceremonies that followed the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953, the selection of those who are presented with their names and who gets to speak, was made with a purpose. So we hear Stalin’s immediate successor Georgy Malenkov promise that nothing will change, and we hear the notoriously feared chief of intelligence, Lvrenty Beria, threatening the enemies. There is a nice twist though. At this public meeting at which, during the burial ceremonies, the successor of the dead dictator is being introduced, the person announcing the speakers is never identified by the name. Yet it is he, the master of this ceremony, who eventually succeeded the dictator, winning the power struggle triggered by his death, becoming the first secretary of the communist party after Stalin and introducing first democratic reforms. Who would not recognize the smiling face of the man who later gained world fame for banging the table with his shoe at a 1960 UN conference, Nikita Khrushchev?

With the precision of a mathematician, Loznitsa reconstructs the funeral procedures. Starting with the arrival of the coffin and the identification of the dead body with the only two close-ups in the whole film – one of the face, and one of the hands of the dead man. «Moscow Calling», the radio announcement of the death broadcasted all over the vast country, followed by a thorough medical …


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