Directed by: Aleksandr Sokurov
Countries & Regions: Germany
Region: Region 2
Released: 29 September 2003
Cat No: ART256DVD
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A recreation of Russian history and culture and the first ever feature to be shot in a single, unedited take. Magically transported to... Read More
Focusing on three centuries of Russian history, from Peter the Great to Tsar Nicholas II, Russian Ark, the latest film by Alexander Sokurov, is an amazing tour de force. Shot in one long 96-minute tracking shot with a cast of 2000 actors and extras, the film takes the viewer into the great Hermitage Collection in St. Petersburg, Russia, showing real works of art from 33 rooms and exploring their meaning in a larger context.
The film begins in the dark with the narrator (apparently Sokurov) commenting about how little he sees. "My eyes are open", he says, "and yet I see nothing." An elegant white-haired man in a black cloak (Sergey Dreiden) suddenly appears and escorts the confused narrator into the corridors of the grand palace. We see works by El Greco, Rubens and Van Dyck in their awesome splendor. We run into Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, and Nicholas II, the final Russian Tsar hosting the Great Royal Ball of 1913, the last such formal occasion of its kind. As we enter the Great Nicholas Hall, the opulent room is filled with thousands of aristocrats dancing the mazurka in gorgeous period costumes. At the end, there is the peaceful flow of a river outside the hall to which the narrator comments, "The flow is forever. Life is forever." More than just a great technical achievement, this is also a sublime meditation on the individual's place in the universe, one that does not recreate history but allows us to revisit it on a dreamlike stage where past, present, and future are one.
A truly stunning movie, Sokurov's delirious single-take masterpiece enjoys an exemplary DVD transfer here.
I wish I had rented this film from moviemail. Then I could have switched it off and gone to bed. Instead, we hired a babysitter and devoted an entire evening to watching the dullest piece of filmaking in history. it is possibly the most self indulgent, overrated, ill-inspired work I have ever seen. I have never enjoyed visiting museums, but at least you get to walk around. The one redeeming feature is a fabulous orchestra at the very end. But, please. This film seemed like the sick idea of a couple of students that managed to persuade someone to lend them the money to shoot it. I wish they hadn't.
Russian Ark is not only a film of incomparable technical ambition; a sinuous, languorous, labyrinthine ramble, achieved in a single, astounding 96 minute digital take, that glides stealthily through the gilded splendours of the Hermitage at St Petersburg, guided by an 18th century French diplomat- with audience and a mumbling off-screen "spy" joined as spectators to a sumptuous array of paintings and sculptures (Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Canova.), classical concerts, a grand ball, specific historical pageants and figures, including a now young, now aged Empress Catherine II; it is also a pretentious, self-indulgent elaboration of the director Sokurov's thematic concerns, a preposterous virtuoso display of choreography (marshalling a cast of almost a thousand) and costumes, an extraordinary, painstakingly rehearsed theatrical performance- replete with lugubrious longueurs- that renders editing redundant; a refined examination of the links between past and present, various art forms, Russian and European civilisation, illusion and reality; a "ne plus ultra" culmination of certain arthouse aspirations that also serves as a beautiful eulogy of cinema history, subjectively recalling Last Year at Marienbad, Celine and Julie go Boating, Visconti's The Leopard, Bondarchuk's War and Peace, Anger's Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, Ophuls, Von Sternberg, Kubrick et al; a noble, elegiac testament to celluloid and the prodigious ten minute take, an allusive celebration tinged with melancholy, a closure, an opening, a deliciously sensuous surreal journey from within a disturbed mind, a Carrollian wander through a cultural warren; an ego trip - with camera as eye for an I - for director and viewer alike, an eyes wide shut meditation on vision, voyeurism, identity; an intimate space odyssey of 2002, an ethereal exploration of Time, a graceful, ghostly reflection on transience and the echoing footfalls of history, a remembrance of things past, a Proustian sentence; a dream, death, eternity..and none of the above.