TIFF review: The Trial

Sergei Loznitsa's found footage doc about a Stalin-era show trial takes the idea of a "procedural drama" to a bleak new level

THE TRIAL WAVE D: Sergei Loznitsa. Netherlands. 127 min. Sep 10, 9:45 pm AGO Sep 12, 10 am TBLB 4. See listing. Rating: NNN

One of three films released by formalist Belarus-born director Loznitsa this year (another, Donbass, is also screening at TIFF), The Trial pieces together found footage of a 1930 show trial in Stalin-era Russia.

A group of engineers and economists facing (fabricated) charges of participating in a capitalist conspiracy with the French Prime Minister must defend themselves in a packed courtroom before a phalanx of judges, who look like they walked out of Moscow central casting. It would be farcical if the stakes for the defendants weren’t so high. The general outcome is assured, so the two-hour run time gives the audience plenty of time to pore over the artifice and hopelessness of it all.

Opening with street scenes and crowds filtering into a grand courthouse, Loznitsa follows the natural arc of a courtroom drama but, save for the prosecution’s fiery closing arguments, the tone is largely flat and mundane.

That isn’t to say the footage isn’t fascinating – especially each defendant’s final statements, which shed slivers of light on the personalities behind the poker faces. Takes the idea of a “procedural drama” to a bleak new level.

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