Home Estate Planning Occupied City: Steve McQueen’s amazing 4.5 hour documentary

Occupied City: Steve McQueen’s amazing 4.5 hour documentary

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Based on the book by his wife, Bianca Stigter, Oscar winner Steve McQueen explores the years of Nazi occupation in Amsterdam, his adopted home. Spanning four and a half hours with a fifteen-minute interval, the film first draws parallels between Amsterdam during COVID Lockdown, and its history under Nazi control; while the latter finds spaces and artefacts that speak to moments of resistance during the war years. 

Beautifully filmed and narrated by actor Melanie Hyams, Steve McQueen’s urban exploration is an intriguing study. Undeniably dense, it avoids all the expected trappings of a film about Nazi occupation, instead grounding it in a modern context that allows it to feel closer than if we were simply viewing archive footage.

There is some frustration felt at the response of the city to The Pandemic, as well as subjects like the rise of the Alt-Right and The Climate Crisis. It’s a patchwork, however, allowing the footage from today to contrast and sometimes blend with the stories of yesterday. There’s a meditative element to the film, similar in pace to Ai Weiwei’s 2017 documentary Human Flow, where the deluge of facts shouts louder than any forced narrative. It perhaps would have been more digestible as a four-part series, but the boldness of inviting you to experience day to day life over the course of many hours speaks to the boldness of the project, and the skill with which both Steve McQueen and Stigter create their art. 

Occupied City will divide audiences, with the tone and length of the film requiring a particular sort of attention. However, there is no denying Steve McQueen’s ability to make us take a fresh look at the past, as well as an anxious glimpse to the future. 

Occupied City is in selected cinemas from 9th February 

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