The Event (2015)
Directed by: Sergey Loznitsa.
Written by: Sergey Loznitsa.
If you’re planning on seeing Sergei Loznitsa’s The Event, you may want to bone up on your Soviet history a little bit before doing so. Loznitsa is making a follow-up film to his acclaimed Maidan (2014), a documentary where Loznitsa followed the protests in Kiev in 2013 and 2014 against the Russian aggression into their country. Again, Loznitsa is working with footage shot by others, and crafting into a whole – but this time he looks further back in history – to a few days in August 1991, in the town of Leningrad. This was when a group of high ranking Soviet officials tried to conduct a coup d’tat and oust President Mikhail Gorbachev – and people took to the streets to protest. The Soviet Union was on the brink of collapse – inside 6 months it would do just that. But that didn’t mean the people wanted a coup – and wanted a group of self-proclaimed elites to come in and take over. In Moscow, the protests were very volatile – but in Leningrad, they were mainly subdued and peaceful. The people who showed up in the town square, shouting slogan, listening for the latest news, and standing in solidarity with each other didn’t want things to get violent. They just wanted to make their voices heard.
Because Loznitsa is working entirely with archival footage – and he doesn’t provide a voice over, he really does not place too much of what we see in The Event into context. We get snippets of speeches and radio broadcasts so we can tell the broad outlines of what is happening – but that’s about it. This movie isn’t about the specifics of what happened and why it all ended up collapsing. Instead, it is a story of the protesters and their sense of optimism and camaraderie – something that at the time seemed incredibly hopeful for Russia’s future, and looking back at it now is just sad, given how everything has gone in the more than two decades since. It started out so optimistic – and ended up in very much the same place.
One of the main reasons for that can be glimpsed in The Event – as we clearly see Vladimir Putin, then a young KGB Agent, in the footage at several times, coming and going, always silently. His presence is a reminder that even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, many of the people in power remained there – so Russia never got the housecleaning it needed for it to make a fresh start. Instead, it’s just more of the same.
The film is short – just 74 minutes – and that’s about the right length for a movie like this. The film isn’t overly exciting, and can in fact be a little dull. But it is important – and at times quite striking as well. There is no doubt the film will move those in Russia – and the Ukraine – more than those of us who may not be as familiar with the events on display. Still, the movie is an important document of a time when the Russian people had a reason to be optimistic – before it slipped away from them.