TIFF review: State Funeral

Sergei Loznitsa's archival reconstruction of Josef Stalin’s funeral is chilling and effective cinema

STATE FUNERAL WAV D: Sergei Loznitsa. Netherlands/Netherlands/Lithuania. 135 min. Sep 13, 6:15 pm, AGO Sep 14, noon, AGO Sep 15, 5:30 pm, AGO. Rating: NNNN

Assembled entirely from archival footage, like the Belarus-born, Ukraine-based filmmaker’s earlier historical works The Event and The Trial, Loznitsa’s reconstruction of Josef Stalin’s funeral proceedings in March 1953 plays as both direct-cinema documentary and also a horrifying mirror to our present politics, where truth is whatever those in power say it is.

Compressing the four days of The Great Farewell into two and a quarter hours of collective mourning from a population trained to view Stalin as a living god, even as his policies caused the deaths of millions of their countryfolk (“our teacher and leader, the greatest genius in the history of mankind,” as Georgy Malenkov declared in his eulogy), Loznitsa lets us see how politics can turn into death cults, and how a nation can be exhorted to eat itself alive.

It’s chilling, effective cinema.

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