March 1953, Moscow. In the days that followed the death of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, thousands of citizens flooded Red Square to attend his burial and mourn his loss. Hundreds of cameramen were present to capture the moment — another manifestation of Stalin’s cult of personality — yet most of the footage was never brought to light. Almost 70 years later, acclaimed Ukrainian documentarian Sergei Loznitsa has unearthed these archives and assembled State Funeral, a retrospective look at Stalin’s funeral and the tumultuous days that followed. The film is a monumental slightly unnerving oeuvre, and a masterful compilation of archival footage that reveals the bizarre scenes that did not make it into the official cut of Soviet history. But it is also a deep dive into Stalin’s state-enforced adoration, posing difficult questions on admiration for contemporary leaders, both in Russia and elsewhere. Hypothetically, it reflects on the future funerals of a new crop of authoritarian rulers — and the legacies they’ll leave behind.
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