For his first feature-length documentary, the English director and artist Steve McQueen (Oscar for 12 Years a Slave, 2013; Turner Prize 1999) was inspired by the book Atlas of an Occupied City – Amsterdam 1940-1945 (2019) by the Dutch author Bianca Stigter, who also wrote the screenplay.
For hours, the film goes from door to door in contemporary Amsterdam, while Carice van Houten’s restrained commentary describes what happened during the Second World War at each address. The film includes neither archive footage nor interviews, but devotes time and attention to individual stories of resistance, betrayal, courage and looking the other way, painting a picture of a stratified society that still influences the present.
Ghosts of the past find echoes and contrasts in the current inhabitants – and unanticipatedly in the empty streets, furious demonstrations and large-scale police deployment during the Covid era, in which the film was shot. And in the Holocaust and slavery memorials, which were also unveiled precisely during this period. They are Amsterdam monuments of historic significance–something which can also be said of