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Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Sergei Loznitsa - a new voice in world cinema.

Articles in much of the mainstream press tend to ignore the name of Sergei Loznitsa when listing the contenders for Cannes' 'Palme d'Or'. A genuine shame because after all his second feature film 'In the Fog' (В Тумане) is one of those entering the main competition and Loznitsa will be at Cannes in the line-up for the second time. His first feature film -My Joy (Счастье Мое)- was one of those films that really catch critics unawares. At one point during the festival some believed that the film was heading for the main prize. Yet although a road movie of sorts no one seemed to be able to place it. Conservative Russian critics were damned if this film was going to win portraying, in their eyes, a black image of the country. Moreover, it was shown in competition with Mikhalkov's truly awful sequel to Burnt by the Sun and a prize for Loznitsa would apparently signify a slap in the face for Mikhalkov. Loznitsa's film was no simple tale of contemporary reality that both its detractors and its supporters stated it to be even though it, as Loznitsa stated, could not have been located anywhere else but in the border region between Russia, Ukraine and Belorussia.

For years Loznitsa had been working as a documentary director but the documentaries that Loznitsa made were like few others and he invented a new language of documentary filming. A new documentary language that was, however, like a return to Lumiere. The fact is that Loznitsa did away completely with voice-over and there is very little dialogue at all in his documentaries.

The documentary for which he is perhaps most well-known is his film 'The Siege' (Влокада) about the Second World War siege of Leningrad. He used footage found in film archives in St Petersburg to make one of the most fascinating documentaries of recent years. The lack of voiceover or even music was a deliberate decision on the part of Loznitsa to avoid the disruption of the process of vision and yet he does create a realm of siege sounds that, as Polina Barskova in a perceptive review of the film has stated, is rather similar to German's 'Khrustalev, mashinu'. Just as In German's film "in Loznitsa’s film, sounds are also fragmented, superimposed over each other, disorganized"

Like 'The Siege', Loznitsa's film 'Revue' (Представление) is also made entirely from found footage and is without a voiceover. Synchronized sound is added. Other documentaries of Loznitsa are also fully without dialogue and create cinematic miracles from truly pedestrian moments of life. One of my favourites is 'The Train Stop' (Полустанок) which observes sleeping travellers at a small train station while they sleep and snore. Yet there is something immensely classical about this film- the observation of banality reaches artistic heights hard to account for. In all Loznitsa made 11 documentary films and it is hard to fault any of them. Their mainly rural setting gives them a certain ability to reflect on time and change as well as mobility and immobility in a different way. The journey from documentary to feature film in Loznitsa is also original and one could almost compare it to the journey that Alain Resnais made - 'My Joy' being the strange parallel to the 'Last Year in Marienbad' with their parallel disorientation of time.

Another plausible source for Loznitsa has been provided by Russian filmcritic Zara Abdullaeva- she posits parallels with Medvedkin's Счастье ('Happiness' but using the same word in Russian as the title of Loznitsa's film). The fairy tale like construction of the film but within a far more grotesque context of the crisis of all humanism seems to posit a new step in which Russian cinema has taken. Loznitsa takes Russian cinema and its fables bravely into the territory of Platonov and his 'Foundation Pit'. His is a vision sorely needed in Russian cinema (or Russian-Ukrainian cinema) at the moment- he represents a voice that only Pyotr Lutsik seemed able to represent before his untimely death in the late 1990s. Surely it really is time for the Cannes media circus to notice this genuinely new emergent master of world cinema.

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