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Viewer advice: Contains archival footage of distressing scenes

The perpetration and subsequent cover-up of one of the 20th century’s worst mass murders are examined in detail in Sergei Loznitsa’s remarkable archival collage.

In late September 1941, in Nazi-occupied Ukraine, tens of thousands of Jews were murdered in open air in one of the Holocaust’s largest single atrocities, with their bodies buried in Kiev’s Babi Yar ravine. Following the war, attempts to commemorate the massacre were suppressed by the Soviet leadership, who instead directed that the mass gravesite be used an industrial waste dump. However, this strategy backfired tragically when, 20 years later, the collapse of a nearby dam caused a mudslide at the ravine, leading to the further deaths of over a thousand people.

In his seventh film to screen as part of Cannes’ official selection, the prolific Loznitsa (State Funeral, MIFF 2020; The Trial, MIFF 2019) assembles extraordinary footage of the city during WWII, witness testimonies of the massacre, the trials of its perpetrators and the aftermath of the 1961 disaster. A work that, in the director’s own words, will “plunge the spectator in the atmosphere of the time”, Babi Yar. Context is a devastating document of human cruelty and the cost of concealing the past.

“A fascinating and quietly devastating chronicle of invasion, occupation and slaughter.” – Screen Daily