Steve McQueen bridges the past horrors of Nazi-era Amsterdam with a threatening present-day extremism in the trailer for Occupied City, a four-hour documentary from the 12 Years a Slave helmer inspired by a book by his wife, Dutch filmmaker Bianca Stigter.
The teaser trailer, which A24 dropped on Tuesday (below), remains tightly focused on modern-day Amsterdam as McQueen’s camera captures in his adopted city locals walking, jogging, skating, dancing, getting married and otherwise going about their everyday lives.
But those visuals are overlaid by narrator Melanie Hyam recalling the murders, suicides, resistance and betrayals that convulsed Amsterdam’s Jewish community in the early 1940s as the occupying Germany’s noose steadily closed around the neck of their embattled community.
That combination of McQueen’s elegant portrait of Amsterdam today and a matter-of-fact narration written by Stigter, author of the book Atlas of an Occupied City (Amsterdam 1940-1945), which inspired the documentary, connects the 1940s and now as the Holocaust serves to foreshadow growing extremism today.
“In 1942, the deportations began,” the viewer hears Hyam recount at one point in the trailer as McQueen shows a young child running in front of the Royal Palace in Amsterdam, happily scattering a flock of seagulls on the ground.
McQueen’s fresh documentary approach to occupied Amsterdam during the first half of the 1940s has the narration never commenting directly on his visuals, but instead indirectly hinting at ghosts from the past.
The trailer at times features present-day police in Amsterdam moving on horseback, in helicopters or armored trucks to disperse crowds, including those protesting COVID-era crackdowns.
Occupied City, which bowed in Cannes and played at Telluride and the New York Film Festival, will open in theaters Dec. 25. The documentary’s producer credits are shared by A24, New Regency and Film4, among others.