×

Film Review: ‘The Event’

Sergei Loznitsa’s found-footage docu of the failed 1991 coup against Gorbachev and Yeltsin movingly taps into our collective historical memory.

With:
(Russian dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4900156/reference

It’s possible to describe Sergei Loznitsa’s found-footage documentary “The Event” with complete detachment. The film is composed of black-and-white images shot by eight cameramen in St. Petersburg in 1991, when Communist Party stalwarts in Moscow tried to overthrow Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin. People poured onto the streets, the army refused to fire, the coup failed, and the Soviet Union was soon a thing of the past. However, Loznitsa relies on an intelligent audience with historical memory, and among that demographic, few will be unmoved by the inevitable pondering: What happened to the optimism of 1991? Fests are deservedly making room for “The Event.”

It was August, and a group of KGB officials and their cohorts, furious at the reforms taking place, hatched a plot to overthrow Gorbachev, then the president of the U.S.S.R., and Yeltsin, the president of Russia. When people awoke on the morning of Aug. 19, they were told that an emergency committee had been formed to rule the country and Gorbachev, then in his dacha in the Crimea, was too ill to govern. After the initial announcement, a news freeze was imposed, with radio stations broadcasting nothing but Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake.” Less than four months later, the Soviet Union was no more.

Everyone outside the U.S.S.R. watched what was happening with a sense of disbelief: The inhabitants of Ronald Reagan’s ridiculously titled “evil empire” had had enough. The brilliance of “The Event” is the way Loznitsa brings us inside — not in the frantic meeting rooms of the plotters, but within the bosom of the people. Edited together from footage shot by eight cameramen who wandered the ever-increasing crowds that summer day in St. Petersburg, 400 miles away from the coup, the docu vividly captures the shift from bewilderment to empowerment as the population became ever more emboldened in their public disavowal of Bolshevism.

Several parallel lines of thought emerge while watching the film, making the footage doubly gripping, and Loznitsa masterfully accesses all lines of inquiry. As the crowds swell, anxious for real information, audiences will wonder: What do we really know about what happened during the coup? What alliances were made that allowed the U.S.S.R. to collapse, and who ultimately benefited? In retrospect, Vladimir Putin, briefly glimpsed as aide to St. Petersburg mayor Anatoly Sobchak, was unquestionably the victor, and a little Internet digging reveals that he maintained ties with the plotters (none of whom have ever been prosecuted).

By using this untapped footage, might Loznitsa be suggesting that the Russian people could rise up again and change the course of the country? Unlikely. Far more probable is that the director wants viewers to shake their heads in disbelief, questioning how it’s possible that, after such a seemingly spontaneous show of solidarity demanding freedom, the country is once again firmly in the hands of a dictator with just the kind of puppet parliament that Stalin himself set in place. Viewing “The Event” is an emotional experience, for all these reasons, including the stark conclusion that hope for a better world has withered, and the revolutions of the last 26 years did little to wipe the political landscape clean.

Loznitsa’s editing is unsurprisingly masterful in building his story without feeling like manipulation, and as usual in his documentaries, there is no imposed narrative and no voiceover. The images themselves are unmistakably Eastern European in feel, crisply black-and-white with pronounced contrasts of gray-scale tonalities. The audio is carefully slotted in, connected to the images in terms of message (slogans, rumors in the crowd, shouts) but often not glued to the footage. For anyone with a sense of history, the sight of crowds gathering outside the Winter Palace, or anti-communist placards decorating the Alexander Column in Palace Square, can’t fail to send chills, tapping into past, present and future.

Film Review: 'The Event'

Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (noncompeting), Sept. 4, 2015. (Also in Toronto Film Festival — Wavelengths.) Running time: 73 MIN. (Original title: “Sobytie”)

Production: (Documentary — Netherlands-Belgium) An Atoms & Void, Cinematek production. Produced by Sergei Loznitsa, Maria Choustova-Baker. Co-producer, Nicola Mazzanti.

Crew: Directed by Sergei Loznitsa. Camera (B&W); editors, Loznitsa, Danielius Kokanauskis; sound, Vladimir Golovnitski; line producer, Maria Choustova-Baker.

With: (Russian dialogue)

More Film

  • The Lion King

    ‘The Lion King’ Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the always-on TV ad measurement and attribution company iSpot.tv, Walt Disney Pictures claims the top spot in spending with “The Lion King.” Ads placed for the remake had an estimated media value of $5.64 million through Sunday for 1,290 national ad airings on [...]

  • Beyonce poses for photographers upon arrival

    Beyoncé Releases Music Video for 'Spirit,' Her 'Lion King' Soundtrack Contribution

    Beyoncé fans are stampeding across the web veldt to get a look at her just-released music video for “Spirit,” the original song she co-wrote and sang for the “Lion King” soundtrack. The track is also included on the companion album she executive-produced and will release Friday, “The Gift.” Clips from the computer-animated film are interspersed [...]

  • Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez star

    Jennifer Lopez Takes Down Wall Street Crooks in New Trailer for 'Hustlers'

    According to Jennifer Lopez, basic pole dancing movements all revolve around a few foot positions. But as she tells her stripper student Constance Wu, it’s not just about the dancing. In the new trailer for “Hustlers,” Lopez and Wu swindle a number of high profile Wall Street clients in an effort to bring their white [...]

  • Writers vs Agents Packaging War WGA

    Writers Guild Leaders Warn Members About Contact With Fired Agents

    Leaders of the Writers Guild of America are warning members about being contacted by their former agents — asserting that such efforts are an attempt to undermine the WGA and its members. The missive, sent Tuesday from the WGA negotiating committee, came with the guild in a bitter three-month standoff with talent agents that appears [...]

  • Apollo 11

    Film News Roundup: 'Apollo 11' Re-Release Set for Moon Landing Anniversary

    In today’s film news roundup, Neon is re-releasing “Apollo 11”; “Sesame Street” gets moved; “Supersize Me 2” is set for Sept. 13; Will Ropp gets a “Silk Road” deal; and Apple makes a movie deal. RE-LAUNCH Neon will re-release Todd Douglas Miller’s documentary “Apollo 11” in theaters on July 20, the 50th anniversary of the [...]

  • Michael B. JordanAFI Awards Luncheon, Los

    Michael B. Jordan's 'Just Mercy' Moves to Awards Season Slot

    Michael B. Jordan’s upcoming legal drama “Just Mercy” has been shifted forward three weeks from Jan. 17 to Dec. 25 for an Oscar-qualifying theatrical release. “Just Mercy” is based on the case of Walter McMillan, an African-American death-row prisoner who was exonerated in 1993 after being convicted five years earlier for a 1986 murder in [...]

  • Harry Styles to Play Prince Eric

    Harry Styles in Talks to Play Prince Eric in Disney's 'Little Mermaid'

    Harry Styles is going under the sea. The former One Direction frontman is in early negotiations to play Prince Eric in Disney’s live-action adaptation of “The Little Mermaid.” Halle Bailey will portray the Ariel, a mermaid princess who dreams of being a human, while Melissa McCarthy is playing her evil aunt Ursula. “The Little Mermaid” [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content