Sergei Loznita’s compelling act of historic recuperation looks unfinished [Venice]

One of the first post-World War II trials to hold the Germans to account, the January 1946 kyiv Trial took place in the USSR and has since become known as the kyiv Nuremberg. Overlapping both in time and scope of this infamous trial, the tribunal took place over two days in which 15 Germans were tried for war crimes, before ultimately being convicted and hanged for the atrocities committed.

Using three hours of audience footage he found in archives when constructing his 2021 documentary “Babi Yar. The Context“, by Sergei LoznitaThe kyiv trialaims to reenact the trial. Composed entirely of archival footage – with occasional on-screen text for minimal context – “The kyiv Trial” meticulously documents the proceedings and testimony of defendants and witnesses. A profound act of historical recuperation, “The kyiv Trial” lays bare the horrors perpetrated by the Nazi Party, first by giving the defendants evasive explanations for the murders they committed, before turning to the powerful testimonies first-hand from witnesses who barely managed to avoid death, whether through mass executions or, as one woman put it, concentration camps, including Auschwitz.

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However, unlike “Babi Yar. Context,” which, as its title suggests, sought to provide historical and contemporary context to the 1941 massacre, “The kyiv Trial” is often disorienting as testimonies pile up and stories intertwine. Those looking for an overview, or even a tiny bit of historical context, of the trial will be forced to look elsewhere – we start with opening statements and immediately jump into the defendants’ pleas before moving quickly from testimony to testimony.

But these testimonies are raw, moving and ultimately very difficult to watch. One woman, Dina Pronicheva, recounts towards the end of the proceedings how she managed to play dead during the Babi Yar massacre, holding her breath as the Nazis stomped on her with studded shoes before starting to bury her alive. Another, Alexandra Tsarenkova, talks about a mass shooting at a teachers’ college in Novomoskovsk. The final scenes are of a mass hanging of the convicted criminals in Kalinin Square, to wistful applause from kyiv.

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While Loznita has crafted a compelling document of historical significance, the act of watching the film is a bit scattered. The choice to use only archival footage is commendable and creates an immediacy to the experience, but the absence of any historical context – except for the names and dates of witnesses – creates an airtight viewing experience. , separating the debates from any sense of a timeline of how and when these events took place.

Does “The kyiv Trial” work as a standalone film? I am not sure. It helps to illuminate” Babi Yar. Context,” particularly with Pronicheva’s testimony, and serves as an addendum to the type of archival work that Loznita has been interested in recovering recently (including his fascinating and similarly constructed 2019 documentary on Stalin “State funeral”), but seems to lack key contextual elements that might be needed for a film so focused on an overlooked historical moment – ​​one that was quickly overshadowed by Nuremberg.

As an act of both testimony and recuperation, “The kyiv Trial” is a compelling, if thought-provoking, watch – horrifying in its memories of atrocities and the direct ways in which Nazi defendants explained and defended their actions. . As a film, however, “The kyiv Trial” feels oddly unfinished, as if this collection of edited out clips is the first step toward a more complete package. One that will hopefully shed more light on the scope and impact of the lawsuit going forward. [B-]

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