Monday, October 31, 2011

Russian Ark

Alexandr Sokurov's "Russian Ark"(2002) is a filmic tour de force. The film consists of one 96 minute Steadicam shot through the rooms and corridors of The Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg. It covers three centuries of Russian history. Sokrov utilized 2,000 actors and extras, three orchestras and hundreds of film technicians. Director of Photography Tilman Büttner was also the Steadicam Operator. They apparently recorded a guide track of the actors and looped the whole thing in Post so they didn't have to stop for sound problems. As it was, they had two aborted tries and then got it on the third take. They only had access to the palace for one day.

This highwire act would be worth a look just to appreciate the feat, but the film is also very beautiful and quite engaging. We see everything through the eyes of a recently deceased ghost from 2002. Most of the others characters can't see him, with the exception of a few people from our era, and a French aristocrat from the 19th Century who the ghost dubs, "The European". The European (according to Wikipedia) is based on an actual Marquis who published a book on Russia in 1839, whose thesis was that Russian civilization was a thin veneer over the Asiatic barbarism that was really Russia.

The film occasionally lags but mostly flows gracefully, providing us with a wonderful opportunity for historical voyeurism. I recommend it.

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