David Hudson, www.fandor.com, 21.09.2015

“We are witnessing confusion in action.”

“Sergei Loznitsa’s The Event makes a striking follow-up, if not strictly a companion piece, to his Maidan, which documented the recent political protests in Ukraine,” begins Jonathan Romney in Screen. “In his new film, the Belarus-born director documents similarly turbulent and decisive events in Russia, nearly 25 years ago, but this time exclusively through archive footage—a technique he previously used in his 2006 film Blockade, about the Siege of Leningrad. The Event chronicles the gatherings of the Russian public on the streets of St Petersburg, then Leningrad, in August 1991, in response at an attempted coup d’état by hardcore Communists, involving the detention of the then President Mikhail Gorbachev. It’s fair to say that the film raises more questions than it answers, and that audiences are likely to emerge in the dark about a crucially important modern event.”

At the AV Club, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky finds that “Loznitsa’s angle is oblique; all of the footage used here was shot in Leningrad, rather than Moscow, where the coup attempt occurred. These people are, in other words, at once in a historic episode and outside of it, building barricades and reading speeches in preparation for a moment that would never come to them. (Key moment: An offscreen voice shouting ‘Volodya! Volodya!’ to a man who turns out to be Vladimir Putin, then an advisor to the mayor’s office.) Offhand and minor by design, the footage collected in The Event still probably qualifies as a major resource on the atrocious perms, math-teacher mustaches, owlish glasses, and windbreaker jackets that defined the Soviet Union in its final years.”

“First, we are thrust into the middle of the crowd, buffeted hither and thither, and this often makes it difficult to get our bearings,” writes Michael Sicinski for Cinema Scope. “This is entirely intentional, and goes hand in hand with the second element of The Event: we are witnessing confusion in action. ‘Is Gorbachev dead?’ ‘Why is the TV only showing the Bolshoi Ballet?’ ‘We have to seal the records,’ etc. The situation is one of constant change, even as the Soviet coup leaders try in vain to establish normalcy…. Of course, The Event is also a prelude to a tragedy, since we all know (and Loznitsa knows we know) that the bold experiment in Russian democracy ends with oligarchs and Gazprom and Old You-Know-Who.”

“The Event ends finally inside the apparatus, as we see the government archives being sealed away from what the participants assume will be meddlers and erasers of history,” writes Notebook editor Daniel Kasman. “But then Loznitsa cuts to black and a title card explaining the charges this evidence contains have never been brought, that most in power during the Soviet era continued to be in power afterwards. And so, indeed, Maidan, taking place almost twenty years later, feels like it could be a sequel to this film, beginning the very next day.”

More from Rory O’Connor (Film Stage, B+) and Gonzalo Suárez (Cineuropa).

Update, 9/22: Here in Keyframe, Jordan Cronk notes that “Loznitsa’s ever so slight aural additions (utilizing the main theme from Swan Lake to punctuate each movement) and disjunctions (offsetting sounds and voices across the mix) lend the film an elegiac air, subtly acknowledging the retroactive developments which saw such passionate acts give way to another, equally unfortunate era of oppression.”

Update, 10/3: “Walking away from The Event,” writes Eric Hynes for Film Comment, “I was convinced that every second of footage Loznitsa chose was meant as a metaphor for now, even though none of the footage is presented metaphorically. That’s some cinematic sorcery right there, and politically dissident to the core: construct a film that’s exactly what it is, and yet have it mean something other, something unmentioned, something understood—like a somber, knowing nod from across the room.”