OCCUPIED CITY

OCCUPIED CITY

(director/writer: Steve McQueen; screenwriter: Bianca Stigta; cinematographer: Lennert Hillege; editor: Xander Nijsten; music: Oliver Coates; cast: Melanie Hyams (Narrator); Runtime: 266; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Steve McQueen, Floor Onrust, Anna Smith Tenser; A24; 2023-UK/USA/Netherlands)

“An ambitious, relevant and exhausting film, that grows tiresome and tedious even as it illuminates because of its repetitiveness and its over four-hour length.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The over four-hour documentary by the exceptional Brit director Steve McQueen (“12 Years a Slave”/”Widows”) tracks the brutal daily life for Jews in Amsterdam under Nazi rule during the World War II period between 1944 and 1945 and relates it to today’s modern-day clean-looking Amsterdam.There’s no talking heads or archival footage. It’s filmed after the Covid-period ended and evokes through a voiceover memories and ghosts from the troubling Nazi past.

The doc is based on a history book by the Black filmmaker McQueen’s Jewish white wife and co-producer Bianca Stigter, who wrote the Dutch-language book ‘Atlas of an Occupied City, Amsterdam 1940-1945.’ Amsterdam is McQueen’s adopted city.

The voiceover is provided by Melanie Hyams. Her narrative begins from the time of the Nazi invasion in 1940. It includes the collaboration of the Dutch Nazi party with Berlin, the daily violence and repressions against the Jews, the Westerbork transit camps and passage from there to the death camps, and the ill-effects on the Jewish population during the “hunger winter” of 1944 to 1945.

It’s an ambitious, relevant and exhausting film, that grows tiresome even as it illuminates because of its repetitiveness and its over four-hour length. It packs little entertainment value, not much of an emotional wallop and even if it tells a Holocaust story that’s still necessary to tell, it was still better told before in films like the nine-hour Shoah (1985).

It played at the Cannes Film Festival.


REVIEWED ON 5/22/2024  GRADE: B-