Zane Timonina,, 09.09.2015

As I am walking past the Palazzo del Cinema, a man steps out of a car. It is Sergei Loznitsa, Ukrainian director, who already had attracted my attention with Maidan, the remarkably significant documentary about recent political protests in Kiev. Loznitsa himself visited my hometown Riga last year to promote his film and participate in discussion on the interaction between art and politics. Here at the 72nd edition of the Venice Film Festival I witnessed the world premiere of his most recent film The Event. The Event joins a group of Loznitsa’s previous black-and-white films, which raises the question about purpose of such choice. What justifies the usage of black-and-white aesthetic in contemporary cinema?

Lots of black-and-white fiction films have been widely recognized and awarded in recent years (Ida, Frances Ha, Nebraska, Tabu, The Tourin Horse, Blancanieves etc.) Black-and-white aesthetic definitely embodies specific aims of film directors and several traditions of black-and-white can be distinguished in films of recent years. If we look at the most recent black-and-white fiction films, it becomes clear that the choice of black-and-white aesthetic is primarily guided by three traditions: 1) black-and-white tradition as a visual condition; 2) black-and-white aesthetic as a time category to reference a specific time period or to imitate the stylistics of a specific time period; 3) black-and-white aesthetic as a social category, describing the characteristics of a specific environment. In many cases these traditions interflow. For example, Pawlikowski’s black-and-white picture is not only a documentation of the past, but portrays specific social environment and offers stunning visual image at the same time.

Being a documentary, Loznitsa’s The Event has to be appreciated in a different way, of course. The film shows an attempted coup d’etat in Russia in August 1991. Director has used archival material to make a film on events that occurred twenty-five years ago. It is relevant that portrayal of such a crucial historical moment in Russian history has reached the audience only today, when Russian democracy is facing rather hard time. Synopsis reveals that The Event is comprised entirely of ashen black-and-white archival footage shot in Leningrad during the days of the 1991 putsch, presented without voiceover. On the one hand, usage of black-and-white aesthetic in films distances the viewer from portrayed events, in such way creating a visual (and somehow metaphorical) wall between the audience and subject matter. But, on the other hand, it strengthens a sense of reality and authenticity, which originates from tradition using black-and-white aesthetic as a reference to history itself. The protagonist in Loznitsa’s The Event is the crowd, citiziens of Leningrad, and through this non-aggressive, unobtrusive black-and-white found footage Loznitsa lets the spectator decide what point of view exactly are we experiencing on screen. Being born in Latvia and so being familiar with films subject, I couldn’t help but appreciate director’s approach in presenting the chaos, fear and confusion amongst people confronting change of political situation without unnecessary expansion of emotional level, false relationships and forced color.

Visual appearance of The Event certainly serves its purpose, making it an essential document of the human history. Director has stated: it is only now—25 years later—that we can distance ourselves from the misconceptions, strip off the layers of propaganda and speculations, and see and judge the events in a contemporary context. So let’s try and do exactly that.