Assembling an intuitive portrait of 1950s life in the Soviet Union from archival state-produced films, Sergei Loznitsa’s choice to intersperse footage of smiling farmers and dogma-spouting steelworkers with folk dancers and village choirs throughout Revue doesn’t feel flippant, or even discordant. All the proletarians on view are seen in a performative prism: They’re dancing as fast as they can, whether trilling hymns to textiles (“My flax and hemp/A fiber fine”) or conscientiously arriving by reindeer sled at their polling place to vote for the Party at a ballot box under Lenin’s ubiquitous likeness. So the transitions from potato picking to musical numbers serve the subtext that even as Khrushchev—seen speaking before a packed town square, with all the trappings of political visits in the Free World—tried to inspire with production statistics and a shout of “Forward to Communism,” the masses put on their best mollified mask for the camera or the boss. Glory to the CP, and be sure to chuckle heartily at the anti-tsarist jokes in the community playhouse’s collective-farm comedy.
The sources’ black-and-white visuals, from steel-pouring montages to close-ups of iconic working-class faces smudged by grease or beaming at poetry in the factory break room, shine as if spiffily restored, and Loznitsa’s Dolbyization of what seems to be the original films’ seamless sound editing—horse whinnys, footfalls in snow, the laughter of laborers—further adds to the sheen of the USSR’s best-boot-forward image making. Aside from a hardy-looking peasant woman who assures an apparatchik that her farm will enthusiastically pitch in to meet the premier’s sugar beet goal, the most guileless subjects of Revue‘s propaganda reels are its children, who can recite inculcated socialist dreams that haven’t yet been dissipated by a career in hay threshing, or perestroika. While a boy from a nationalist scouting group, the Young Pioneers, is seen vowing to his “venerable” elders that his generation will complete the construction of the communist state, another lad testifies in a classroom to resentments that spill across the spectrum of governing ideologies. He wants to be a footballer when he grows up, the kid allows, because “father was a footballer, and now he’s a lathe operator.”