Despite some fascinating footage, Sergei Loznitsa's reconstruction of Stalin's funeral is often mind-numbingly repetitive and dull
Here is a fascinating, if impossible to recommend, experiment from Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitsa – a near two-and-a-half hour reconstruction of Joseph Stalin’s funeral in 1953, made up entirely of unearthed archive footage presented without any sort of commentary or even music. As a piece of history, State Funeral is a masterwork, giving us an immersive insight into Stalin’s cult of personality and how the Soviet populace continued to buy into it after his death. As a film, though, it’s stultifying, and would feel far more at home as a museum piece than in a cinema.
Loznitsa has dived deep into these archives – there’s footage from all over the Soviet Union, from Moscow to Azerbaijani oil rigs to the frozen far east of Russia, in colour and in black and white, of ordinary peasants and globetrotting politicians. In briefer snatches, State Funeral would be an extraordinary resource, with its crisp, clear, and sometimes even beautiful imagery capturing the mood of this pivotal moment, a mood visible on people’s faces and in the awe-inspiring pageantry of the State.
As it stands, though, the repetition and runtime are lethal, your focus constantly waning until a new remarkable image pops up, bringing you back in just as another 25 minutes of rather static pronouncements begin. If Loznitsa is trying to capture the mind-numbing relentlessness of Stalinist propaganda, he’s succeeded, but this is not a goal that lends itself to particularly compelling viewing.
It’s hard to shake the feeling that you’re watching something assigned to you as part of a history course at university. State Funeral’s single-minded commitment to its unaltered footage eventually makes it more of an obligation than a movie you’d see willingly.
State Funeral is now streaming on MUBI.Where to watch