MUBI UK film review: State Funeral
Daniel Broadley | On 21, May 2021
Director: Sergei Loznitsa
Where to watch State Funeral in the UK: MUBI UK
Joseph Stalin died on 5th March 1953. In the days following his death, his body was put on display in Moscow for the people of the USSR to come and pay their respects after loudspeakers spread the news to every far-flung corner of the Soviet Union. State Funeral, the creation of Ukrainian filmmaker Sergei Loznitsa, is less a documentary about the immediate aftermath of Stalin’s death and more a well-edited historic document that offers a fascinating insight into a strange historical moment, but nonetheless drags at over two hours long.
Like 2018’s Apollo 11 and the documentaries of Adam Curtis, Loznitsa’s film is made up entirely of archived footage, and offers a fascinating insight into a bygone era of a country in the grip of a cult of personality. The footage was originally filmed for official propaganda at the time but, as the leadership of Khrushchev went on and Stalinism declined, any appetite for the creation of such a film dwindled, and the footage was lost. Until now.
There is no narration; instead, we occasionally hear the announcements of officials and speeches from the likes of Malenkov and Beria. Stalin’s “watchful eye” is often mentioned, and it’s hard not to image the camera as a continuation of Stalin’s omnipresence as civilians occasionally glance into it, either emotionless, careful not to show any sign of dissent or hiding behind a facade of grief.
Granted there are likely a few genuine tears, but the most fascinating thing about this film are the many, many faces, each one a glimpse of a life we’ll never know. Wreaths are laid, speeches are spoken, processions are marched… and the directionless of a country unsure if what to do with itself is perfectly captured is this farcical and elaborate state funeral for one of the 20th century’s most evil tyrants. There are even multiple renditions of Mozart’s Lacrimosa which conjure up images from Elem Klimov’s Come and See, a horrifying film about the Nazi invasion of Belarus, and serves as a reminder of the atrocities committed on both sides of the war – some of which the man this grand state funeral was held for is personally responsible.
Where Armando Iannucci’s black comedy The Death of Stalin captures the absurdity of the Soviet Union during this time in a thoroughly entertaining way, State Funeral could not be more matter-of-fact. It is what it is, and at over two hours long becomes tiresome. There’s only so many shuffling and grieving Soviets one can watch.
State Funeral is now available on MUBI UK, as part of a £9.99 monthly subscription.