He was adressing the audience in the Sava Center and said that this amount of people at one screening is the same as we have had in one month in theatres in Germany! Where the film was released mid December. The reviews have been great in Germany but it seems to be difficult to attract the audience for a film like ”Austerlitz” directed by Ukrainian Sergei Loznitsa. I can only say that the Belgrade audience deserves a big Bravo to come and appreciate a film like this that is challenging. Well I know that many found it long and boring, but also that many left the cinema having experienced a piece of cinematic art.
There was a full house for the Q&A in the VIP room afterwards for a one hour session, where the director explained how he came to have an interest in holocaust tourism and how he made it into a film. Equally interesting was a friday morning where he was with young and younger filmmakers for a couple of hours showing examples from previous films.
As one of the trio of selectors (Svetlana and Zoran Popovic being the other two) I have been happy to present ”Austerlitz” at the Magnificent7 festival. With me it is a film that almost works physically. Loznitsa´s construction of the sound score is a superb
alliance to the black & white images, where there is no camera movement and where every frame is precise and full of meaning in its composition. Back to the sound… it goes on my nerves when I am confronted with the sound of steps of all the tourists, who are visiting the camps – after visiting several, Loznitsa decided to concentrate on Dachau and Sachsenhausen – in their almost naked summer dress with their smart phones clicking all the time, their audioguides linked to the ear, and their selfie-photo-taking.
There IS so much disrespect in the behaviour of the tourists, Loznitsa is not pointing at that, it is my interpretation based on his aesthetic somewhat pure approach. But you are not only shaking your head when watching: Suddenly he introduces a sequence of faces, who look concentrated at, well what it is, we don’t see it, but we read the faces and the emotions, and after some faces Loznitsa lets church bells ring… and I remember what he said at the workshop: you have to let the unexpected in because that’s what we as viewers actually expect. In other words it was exactly what I needed from the director, this gentle comment to the faces and their feelings.
40 shooting days, I never hide the camera, precise information on use of lenses, I don’t like people looking into the camera, lot of discussion on the quick cutting at the end of the film contrary to the long shots otherwise used. Loznitsa was generous in his explanations, a mild man, precise as the mathematician he is by education, an education he took before he entered the Moscow film school VGIK and made his first fine work, “Together we are going to build a house” (28 mins.) from 1995. I remember I had seen it before, maybe also awarded it at a festival, anyway it was fine to hear him talk about the film sequence by sequence, and if anyone thinks that Loznitsa is dry and clinical in some of his films, they might be right but here there is a lot of humour that he conveys in the way that he looks at people.
And constructs the film. Because a film is a construction, it is being built, as Loznitsa – and colleague Allan Berg – says again and again. This film was made on 35mm, 20 reels, 2 months of editing, no narration, just an idea, he said, structured like a reportage, “one day in the life of…” these people building the house, and to tell the audience that it was shot over some time, he let a sequence with a dog on the building site be repeated three times!
Cinema for me lies only in the pictures with the use of sound in a creative way.
How to… for every film I make there is a set of rules of “yes” and “no”. And after an editing Loznitsa produces a graph, where he can see how a film flow is with rhythm, where there is most energy – amazing, must be his mathematic background!
At the workshop Loznitsa also showed a clip from the short film he made in Riga from the Jewish cemetery and from “Landscapes” (2003, 60 mins.), part of “Riga Force Majeure”.
Sergei Loznitsa is a director who operates with fiction, documentaries and archive films. As for the latter, I can only recommend those of our readers, who are historically interested to watch “Blockade” (2005) on the siege of Leningrad, “Maidan” (2014) and “The Event” (2015). Loznitsa told me in Belgrade that he now prepares an archive film based on material from Stalin’s processes. He has the footage, it’s amazing he said, he looks forward to the editing process, were he normally includes Lithuanian Danielius Kokanauskis.
Several of Loznitsa’s film are available on DocAlliance, link below.
Photo: Loznitsa being interviewed by director Andrijana Stojkovic.