Review: Blockade and Amateur Photographer

A bold piece of reconstruction, Blockade is a testament to the power of archival footage.

Blockade | Amateur Photographer
Photo: First Run/Icacus Films

A bold piece of reconstruction, Blockade is a testament to the power of archival footage. Director Sergei Loznitsa has compiled silent film footage recorded during the siege of Leningrad to lay out an unprecedented visual timeline. The German siege of the Russian city during WWII is considered one of the most lethal battles in world history, having left close to one million people dead from starvation, in addition to countless others who perished during the persistent bombing of the city, now known as Saint Petersburg. Loznitsa shuns fancy transitions, placing only a few seconds of black leader between each segment of this documentary experiment, which begins with footage of Soviet soldiers preparing for the looming devastation of their city and ends with the hanging of Germans before a massive crowd of survivors. In between, historic buildings burn to the ground, children horde books from a crumbled library, women get their water from the melting snow outside their homes, the dead rot on city streets, and corpses are dumped into mass graves. Loznitsa underscores this footage with a modern soundtrack that attempts to faithfully recreate what the horrors of each cinematographic moment might have sounded like, but while the accompaniment can sometimes be harrowing, it also calls undue attention to itself, somewhat distancing us from the proceedings. But this is a bigger problem throughout Amateur Photographer, Irina Gedrovich’s 26-minute reconstruction of a German soldier’s experiences on the Eastern front. Playing alongside Blockade at Film Forum for two weeks, the film uses the soldier’s photographs and diary entries to open a rare window into a world far removed from our own. Gerhard M.’s hunger and sexual appetite persisted even in the most grueling of circumstances, and though the visual layout of the piece is intelligently and humanely considered, the audio accompaniment is almost aggressively vulgar.

Score: 
 Director: Sergei Loznitsa, Irina Gedrovich  Distributor: First Run/Icacus Films  Running Time: 52; 26 min  Rating: NR  Year: 2005; 2004

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez is the co-founder of Slant Magazine. His writing has also appeared in The Village Voice and The Los Angeles Times. He’s a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, the Critics Choice Association, and the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association.

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