Grand Prix for 'Blockade'

Russian film director Sergei Loznitsa has won the Grand Prix at the 46th Cracow Film Festival. 'Blockade', a documentary about the Nazi siege of St. Petersburg (then Leningrad) is a striking work that is shot through with many haunting images.

Unlike all the other films shown at the festival, Loznitsa's work is remarkable in that the director himself did not actually shoot any of the footage in the film. The 52 minutes of footage that Loznitsa used draws on material that had been languishing in the archive of the St Petersburg Studio of Documentary Films. During the aftermath of the war, the footage was considered inappropriate for propaganda purposes.

The Kiev born director added sound effects to the silent footage, weaving together many scenes of civilian life. The story unfolds chronologically, and an epic - needless to say tragic - drama unfolds as one of the worlds great cities is mauled and its inhabitants decimated (over half a million residents died in the conflict).

Loznitsa does not flinch from showing the ugliest sides of war. We see a Russian lady spitting on German prisoners as they are marched through the streets. Later, thousands of Russians gather to watch mass hangings of German prisoners. In between these scenes, we see swathes of the city demolished, and bodies littering the snow-strewn streets. The immense strain of the siege can be read in the harrowed eyes of the city's inhabitants.

The director chose not to add any spoken commentary to the footage. In a talk following the screening in Cracow, he revealed that he 'wanted to leave the viewer to make up his own mind.' The result is a work that is essential viewing for anyone interested in the plight of St Petersburg during the war, and indeed for those seeking to better understand the realities of war in general.


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