Film, DVD, Blu-Ray & Streaming Reviews - By Fans For Fans



Directed by Steve McQueen.


Documentary, USA/UK/Netherlands, 266 minutes, 12A.

Released in UK and Ireland in Selected Cinemas on 9th February 2024


After establishing his name in film with the superb features HUNGER and SHAME and then garnering awards with the sublime 12 YEARS A SLAVE, artist Steve McQueen looked briefly like he might be heading down a slightly more mainstream route with the heist thriller WIDOWS.


Yet his next big project was the fascinating SMALL AXE anthology series for the BBC, a collection of no less than five films exploring the lives of West Indian immigrants in London from the 1960’s to the 1980’s.


With his latest project OCCUPIED CITY, McQueen continues to be as unpredictable as he is ground breaking even if the sheer volume of the project may well mean it struggles to find anything close to a mainstream audience.


Based on a book by Bianca Stigter (McQueen’s partner) the film is essentially a collection of shots of specific areas of the city of Amsterdam, shot primarily during the 2020 COVID-19 lock down. Overlaying the footage is the voice of Melanie Hyams who narrates the many, many stories of what occurred at those said place during the Nazi occupation of 1940-1945.


On a structural level there is little more to the film than this, but the history is extremely detailed with each one of the many individual stories carrying substance and resonance. This may also be the film’s weakness – at over four hours (with a fifteen-minute intermission) there is a lot to take in and to that end the medium of a single feature documentary may not have been the best format for the film to reach the widest possible audience. McQueen even states that there is another version of the film which runs at nearly ten times this length, but that is unlikely to see the inside of a cinema, even if Amsterdam’s history clearly runs even deeper than that to which we are shown here.


This is not just about history though but how history can shape a place. The parallels between the occupation and the lock down restrictions – with curfews and resistance a fey factor of both – are smartly demonstrated. Much of McQueen’s work may look at the battle between the body and soul but he equally looks at how history shapes and casts a long shadow over the present, be it slavery, racism or the occupation and mass genocide of a world war.


It’s a bold and original project that does call to mind Terrence Davies OF TIME AND THE CITY albeit not as personal and with much a much bleaker narrative.

For many, it’s sheer length may be off-putting, but like all of McQueen’s work, if you put in the time, the rewards definitely there.


Phil Slatter.


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Film, DVD, Blu-Ray & Streaming Reviews
By Fans For Fans