Babi Yar. ContextDirector: Sergei Loznitsa. NL/UA, 2021, 120 min. Russian with English subtitles
On September 29-30, 1941, Sonderkommando 4a of the Einsatzgruppe C, assisted by two battalions of the Police Regiment South and Ukrainian Auxiliary Police, and without any resistance from the local population, shot dead in the Babi Yar ravine in the north-west of Kiev 33,771 Jews. This title card appears in the very middle of Sergei Loznitsa's latest virtuoso, deeply troubling archival documentary, its placement perfectly illustrating the approach laid out in the title: if grasping such a horrific atrocity is impossible, any understanding of it can only be gained through context.
We see the German army advancing through Ukrainian territory, entering major cities and villages alike, landscapes and cityscapes in smoke, forced labor, shoes, clothing and other possessions on the muddy ground, just as we see Soviet forces retaking the same places, trials, witness statements and the same landscapes changing over time. The pristine restoration of these historical images creates space for endless reflection, on an event of devastating consequence; on how such events are represented; on how each image carries its own intention, even when linked to others; on how the smallest of details and biggest of statements all become the same thing: context. (James Lattimer)