- Revue (Predstavleniye) (2008)
With his 2005 film, Blockade, Sergei Loznitsa established himself internationally as a documentary filmmaker of note, and this latest effort enhances his reputation as the innovative maker of a new kind of historical documentary solely comprising re-edited archive footage.
The most innovative aspect of Loznitsa's filmmaking, however, is his absolute refusal of voice over commentary, of interpretive music and of interviews. By [End Page 63] challenging the hegemony of voice-over, particularly in documentary films made from archive footage, Loznitsa does what the best documentary films should: question through their form as much as their content. Directorial commentary lies in Revue 's editing, and in the subtle manipulation of sound effects.
A good example of this is the footage of steel smelting, used metonymically in numerous Soviet documentaries as an image of the heroic casting and tempering of the Soviet state. Here these shots are stripped of their usual accompaniment of stirring music and uplifting voice-over; instead we hear deafening clanking and barely audible shouted conversation between workers. The effect is to focus the viewer's eye on what it is actually seeing, on the drudgery of the process, rather than on its symbolic value. This is followed by a brief interview with one of the steel workers, praised for his outstanding achievements. When contrasted with the naturalistic preceding scenes this brief speech rings hollow, and seems ridiculously scripted. This is the essential pattern of the film: replacing the music and voice-over with naturalistic sound strips images of their propagandistic context in the original newsreels, and instead endows them with a less glorious aura. This then contrasts with synch sound sequences such as interviews, theatrical representations of the lives of workers, or performances of music and dance. Similarly, in showing the scenes of meticulously conducted elections which declare the never in-doubt victory of the Communists, Loznitsa strips much of the original voice over so as to highlight the process and permit spectators the liberty to reflect upon the absurdity of this charade.
The underlying idea is to show the Soviet state as place of endemic hypocrisy, where ideological conviction was a performance. Taking its Russian title from a Joseph Brodsky poem, "predstavleniye" (1999), which is itself largely made up of inane conversational snippets edited into a comic, but very dark piece, Loznitsa's film edits together a wide range of the weekly newsreel Our Country (Nash krai) from the mid 1950s to the mid 1960s, to paint a picture of year in the life of the country. Such compilation films from 'hostile' material have a venerable history stretching back as far back as Esfir Shub's 1927 The Fall of the Nuremberg Dynasty, through the various Allied films made of the Nazis, such as Frank Capra's Prelude to War in the Why We Fight series, and is now the staple of TV documentaries. Yet traditionally such footage is accompanied with very clear commentaries distancing the author from it, or commenting upon the action, possibly ironically. With Loznitsa's film it is a case of self-denunciation: the archive footage itself appears to reveal the falsity of the society that generated it, and is all the more convincing for that.
It is striking that Loznitsa has turned to the Khrushchev era for his film: a period much less considered than almost any other in Soviet history, and one relatively free from the tragedy of the Lenin and Stalin eras or the widespread cynicism of the Brezhnev era. It is often thought of in terms of its striving towards greater sincerity, as criticism of the Stalinist terror was permitted for the first time. Indeed, the writer Ilya Ehrenburg, in The Thaw a 1953 novel which gave its title to the whole post-Stalin period, made honesty a rallying cry for the renewal of society. Loznitsa has no truck with this self image, and instead focuses on the forced smile, and hammy nature of the Soviet society, even in this, probably its most honest phase, at least until glasnost in the...