Anthology Film Archives’ Sergei Loznitsa series concentrates on the Russian filmmaker’s compilation documentaries. His 2008’s Revue—toplining for a week—is surely the greatest compendium of Soviet kitsch since 1997’s East Side Story. Loznitsa’s simple strategy is to narrow in on the gap between “cultural” events and the dreary realities they celebrated in the ’50s and ’60s by cutting back and forth between self-consciously nationalist concerts/social-realist plays and their real-world inspirations. The gulf is rarely wide: The newsreel footage Loznitsa finds—factory workers woodenly announcing their patriotic quota increases—is hardly more convincing than the terrible plays made to glorify them. (Soviet culture is enjoyable as intended exactly once, in a hilarious puppet mockery of “Let’s Twist Again (Like We Did Last Summer),” with accented marionettes dancing like idiots.) Amid the familiar footage of factory workers and stiff-lipped trials for the collective good, Loznitsa uncovers some real discoveries, like Vano Muradeli’s unbelievable-looking opera Oktober, complete with Lenin arriving onstage in a boat for the finale. Those not already fascinated probably won’t be sucked in, but for stony-hearted connoisseurs not depressed by Stalin’s specter, this is gold. Also playing: Loznitsa’s 2005 Blockade, an eerie evocation of World War II’s Leningrad siege that doesn’t have enough differentiated footage for even 52 minutes to avoid tedium.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 13, 2009