Compiling rare found-footage into an unnerving visual essay on Stalin’s cult of personality, this disquieting film observes the notorious Soviet leader’s 1953 funeral procession – and with it, the end spectacle of a tyrannical regime.
Transporting us into a thronging mass of humanity amidst the state-mandated mourning and burial ceremony for Joseph Stalin, renowned Ukrainian filmmaker Sergei Loznitsa’s latest experimental documentary dives deep into long-forgotten government archives to patiently reveal a surreal picture of, as the director terms it, “terror-induced delusion”.
Visually captivating, State Funeral utilises both colour and monochrome footage – remarkably crisp and clean at almost 70 years old – to produce an immersive experience, at once expansive and claustrophobic. Crowds amass in capacious town squares, with Stalin’s likeness looming large over all in the form of oversized statues and banners and the unending monologue of the public address system. Conversely, inside the Moscow House of Unions, the leader’s pale white corpse is dwarfed by its bed of floral wreaths; the cameras look away to individual displays of grief (or lack thereof) as mourners pass the bier. It is difficult not to wonder how much of the grief is authentic or staged. Without commentary, Loznitsa’s assemblage exposes the uneasy mix of reality, falsity and distortion presented in official documentation. — Jacob Powell
“On March 5, 1953, a shadow of death fell upon the 22.4 million square kilometres of the Soviet Union… The entire country stopped. All walks of society mobilized to take part in The Great Farewell, a four-day funeral-turned-stampede, in which many perished… While it is estimated that over 8.9 million people died under Stalin, hundreds gather to mourn on the anniversary of his death to this day… Part of Sergei Loznitsa’s informal trilogy of historical correctives, after The Event [NZIFF15] and The Trial (2018), State Funeral is his most visually stunning film to date, a bone-chilling deconstruction of the ceremony that ended one of history’s bloodiest regimes. Here is unprecedented access to the grotesque, tyrannical, and absurd experience of life and death under the so-called Red Tsar, the originator of Fake News, whose legacy haunts the contemporary world.” — Dorota Lech, Toronto International Film Festival
About the Filmmaker
Sergei Loznitsa is an award-winning Ukrainian director of 21 documentaries and four fiction films. He received the Best Directing prize of the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes for Donbass (NZIFF18). Selected filmography: A Gentle Creature (2017), Austerlitz (2016), Maïdan (2014), In the Fog (2012), My Joy (2010).