It gets dull after a while, but the context—a Soviet fabricated show trial ordered by Stalin to frame and prosecute ‘anti-communists’ in the eyes of the public—is still an eye-opening look at character assassination on a national, ideological level, nearly a century ago.
Plot: In 1930 in Moscow, USSR. the Soviet government puts a group of top rank economists and engineers on trial, accusing them of plotting a coup d’état.
Awards: Official Selection (Venice & Toronto)
International Sales: Atoms & Void
Subject Matter: Moderate – Legality, Injustice, Character Assassination, Lies & Truth
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Audience Type: Niche Arthouse
The Trial is not the best place to start if you are exploring Sergei Loznitsa’s archival works for the first time. Like a courtroom trial proceeding recorded as it is without any dramatisation, it’s natural for it to get dull after a while.
However, what would have been a process lasting several full days is now condensed into two hours, with Loznitsa focusing on the key segments of the trial, for instance, the opening and closing statements from the defendants and the state prosecutor, several cross-examinations, the verdict, etc.
Here the state is the USSR, and the accused Russian elites who are ‘anti-communists’. Although The Trial might seem to only cater to viewers with a firm interest in legal proceedings, what makes Loznitsa’s work still meaningful to view for the broader film community is its context.
“Did you consider the overthrowing of the Soviet power as your ultimate goal?”
We bear witness to an example of a Soviet fabricated show trial in 1930, ordered by Stalin himself to frame and prosecute high-ranking economists and engineers for a nefarious plot against Soviet industrialisation plans, backed by foreign capitalists.
Oblivious to the public who demanded the right justice for treason i.e. the death penalty, everyone is a tool for propaganda, including the judges.
What’s more terrifying—and perhaps as terrifying as the ‘trial by social media/public opinion’ that has characterised these past few years—is that character assassinations were executed on a national, ideological level, nearly a century ago.
Loznitsa’s film, then, is a reminder that whilst most of us live in the free world, we have to be cautious not to become arbiters of justice and fall into the trap of asserting only our self-righteous values and agendas with complete disregard for the other.