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Felix van Groeningen
During the Interwar period and World War Two, Joseph Stalin dictated Russia in a bloody manner. Composer Dmitri Shostakovich couldn't agree at all with the policies that the tyrant used, but speaking out loud was impossible. It would have cost him his life. Shostakovich found another way: art. This documentary shows how Shostakovich used his Fourth to Ninth Symphony as a silent protest against the crimes of Stalin. Written by
Arnoud Tiele (email@example.com)
Fascinating and keeps you riveted all the way through
One of those documentaries where you learn such a lot from but also can get emotionally invested in. The War Symphonies: Shostakovich Against Stalin easily could have been pandering and insensitive, but it wasn't any of these things, and it treats the subject matter with intelligence and care not to skim the surfaces too much. The archival footage included is powerful and often heart-wrenching, and to have survivors of the purge as well as the musicians, friends and fellow composers are an inspired touch and added a touch of honesty. And this is to the extent that even when you know something about Stalin's regime(which saw a lot of murder, totalitarianism and repression), what is said by the participants goes into much depth that you think "maybe I didn't know about it as much as I thought I did", and for the survivors it in some ways must have been painful to relive. The documentary also focuses on the plight and struggles to fight against the regime with the fear of being caught(anybody else thinking of George Orwell's 1984 here?) of Shostakovich himself, and here you relate to the composer every step of the way. The documentary is very well shot, while Shostakovich's music in the foreground and background has such intensity and somewhat reflective too. They come through loud and clear, and with so much feeling, in the orchestral playing and Valery Gergiev's- one of the best conductors working today- authoritative and very intelligent conducting(certainly didn't feel like a recording/Gergiev promotion to me). Gergiev is also one of the main participants and he shows himself to be very knowledgeable as well as thoughtful, though you do wish that he wasn't being interviewed from the back of a moving car. The archival footage, the music and documentary interviews as well as Shostakovich's plight and struggles are meshed beautifully and flow seamlessly, no obvious signs of disjointedness. Overall, The War Symphonies: Shostakovich Against Stalin is both riveting and fascinating. If there was anything to criticise it for, it was that it was so powerful and absorbing that you wish that it could have been longer. 10/10 Bethany Cox
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