‘State Funeral’: Raw footage from Joseph Stalin’s funeral shows effects of totalitarianism

“State Funeral” is about the death of Joseph Stalin. Photo courtesy of MUBI.

Joseph Stalin was one of the most important leaders of the 20th century. He conquered the Germans to help end World War II. Then he built his country into the world’s only other modern superpower. But he did that by massacring his own people. He murdered, tortured, and imprisoned millions of Soviet citizens. Millions more starved to death during his forced agriculture collectivization.

Along the way, he created a cult of personality that made him like a demigod. When he died in 1953, there was a national period of mourning like no other. It took place across the vast Soviet empire, with an elaborate state funeral in Red Square that ended with him entombed alongside Vladimir Lenin.

It was all captured on film by state filmmakers — 40 hours worth. Now a two-hour version is stitched together by director Sergei Loznitsa. It’s called “State Funeral.” It’s available for streaming on MUBI starting May 21.

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