One of Russian/Ukrainian cinema’s contemporary masters, Sergei Loznitsa, has a career that has successfully juggles both documentary traditional narrative cinema. His latest is The Event, a rather exceptional example of the artform that at just 74 minutes long nonetheless has the aura of an epic. Utilizing only black and white 35mm archival footage recorded in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) over the three days of the attempted coup d’etat that failed and eventually brought about the end of the U.S.S.R., The Event is a key reminder that for many in the world dictatorships, revolutions, and social revolt are issues of genuine life and death and not just something to tweet about online.
The found footage is of a remarkable quality, having been stored away for decades seemingly never to be seen since. While the images shown are filmed far away from the crisis happening in Moscow, they are still nonetheless fascinating to watch. This isn’t a film of violent confrontations like Loznitsa’s Maidan, rather it is one of bewilderment. A sea of faces descending on the public spaces of Leningrad to hear speeches, huddle around transistor radios, and read mass-distributed pamphlets that breed fear. Some of them are concerned, but many of them look simply nonplussed. Still, on screen they are rivetting. In the film’s best scene, a massive crowd stands in silence their hands in the air with peace signs, while in another a Soviet flag is drawn down over Parliament and replaced by the imperial tri-color one that flies still today albeit its colors faded by the black and white, a likely powerful statement by the Ukrainian-born Loznitsa to suggest in hindsight that just because one horror might be ending, doesn't mean another won't follow. Of course, they’re just two moments of many that make The Event a special film and with an occasional musical score courtesy of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake”, a rousing and powerfully cinematic one, too.
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