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Russian Ark -- a great film

 
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The Third M?n
Studio Exec


Joined: 09 Sep 2003
Posts: 575
Location: Chasing Stef around post-war Vienna

PostPosted: 03.04.2004 10:30 pm    Post subject: Russian Ark -- a great film Reply with quote

Rate/discuss if you will.

Russian Ark [2003] Dir: Aleksandr Sokurov

Russian Ark is a bewitchingly beautiful film. Visually unmatched, -- it is told in one single continuous shot that runs through its entire 96 minute length --, the film has more to say via its images than via its internal content. What one keeps wondering is simply, ?How did they do it?? One cannot help but ask themselves that question, because the technical audacity of it all is rather breathtaking ? yet it all looks so effortless. Just think of the tight precision, the perfect timing and the thoughtful improvisation? I turned off the TV feeling both enchanted and haunted by the film. Frankly, it isn?t easy to forget. But to praise it merely because of its one-shot ?gimmick?, as people say, would be a dire mistake. There is far more than that to it, even though the one shot may be ? is ? the element that most grabs our attention.

Granted, when one has been contemplating the camera gracefully move to and fro for a while, with supreme skill and dexterity, one is instantly captivated by the film. Russian Ark isn?t happy with just telling. It wants to show, and it does this in a way that will keep us thoroughly compelled. It succeeds, yes, and as such proves to be an example of incredibly fine filmmaking ? Tarkovsky, one of Russia?s greatest directors, will no doubt be proud. Whether you find the film to be a remarkable triumph or an unbearable bore, one cannot disagree with the amount of artistry ? and sheer genius -- involved in the project. It is astonishing in every sense of the word and its scope and sense of space ? what with the gargantuan number of people, its interminable ambition and the three orchestras ? even more so. The quiet, phantasmagorical and languid atmosphere that the film weaves is one of its biggest assets; it helps to retain that sense of a past that?s gone by, if you will.

Directed by Aleksandr Sokurov, the film takes us through more than 300 years of Russian history, all shown in St. Petersburg?s Hermitage Museum. Sokurov required more than 2000 actors and extras, a full symphony orchestra and seven months of intense rehearsal prior to shooting the film on high-definition digital video ? and the finished result is nothing less than outstanding. We follow a nameless 19th century French Marquis [Sergey Dreiden, in a phenomenal and ironic performance], who leads the narrator ? an unidentified figure who speaks with a sombre voice behind the camera ? through the endless corridors of the museums and the galleries, thus resulting in an extensive tour of the Hermitage and Russian history. As the camera swiftly moves in and out of the rooms, into the hallways and out of them, the viewer is plunged into a hypnotizing tour de force. Russian Ark is visually incredible, a feast for the eyes and an utter marvel of cinematic brilliance. It is clear that aesthetically, on its outward side, it?s unrepeatable, but what about inwardly?

Let me just say that Russian Ark is far from perfect. Involving it certainly is, but one can?t exactly say that it?s entertaining. Its visual bravery never wears thin and, as such, manages to always impress, but the film, as compelling as though it may be, takes a labour to get through. It?s not boring. Just? mind-numbing, I?d say. Also, it is slightly unclear as to what message the director is trying to convey. The irreversibility and inevitability of the scenes shown ? or rather, events ? are magnificently evoked by the fluid one shot technique, but as a whole, the film has a shallow side to it. Or on the other hand, I may be wrong, but I was left with the impression that I couldn?t really grasp the director?s final message to it all. Despite the film?s fine last lines ? ?to live forever?? --, the purpose of the film was not well revealed. I knew the director wanted to astound us, but what for?

Blending art, philosophy and Russian history together, Russian Ark comes off as a very informative and insightful piece of filmmaking. It wants to show and to teach ? I, for one, learnt a great deal of things. It isn?t often that a film shows us things in a way we?d never seen before, and in the process, teaches us. I walked in without knowing much about Russian history, and came off with a reasonable amount of knowledge. Russian Ark is a richly rewarding experience, in many ways. We?re talked about El Greco, Rembrandt?s painting of The Prodigal Son, the saddening sense that loss creates, love, time passing by, death, etc.

Climaxing in a terrifically executed ball dance sequence, the film ends on a somewhat optimistic, hopeful tone, telling us that there is always a future to our past, which is our present. Despite its ? minor ? shortcomings, Russian Ark proves to be an impressive experiment ? and a successful one at that. To be both enthralled and startled by the ingenuity of it all is a sensation that I have seldom obtained while watching a film. Russian Ark does more than amazing us; it takes filmmaking to a whole new dimension and manages to be one of this century?s most important films. In the times to come, I have not doubt that Russian Ark will still be remembered. Because, like it or hate it, its efficacy cannot be rejected. This is a film to be appreciated to say the least.
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The Third M?n
Studio Exec


Joined: 09 Sep 2003
Posts: 575
Location: Chasing Stef around post-war Vienna

PostPosted: 03.05.2004 10:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Has anyone actually seen this, I wonder?
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beltmann
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Joined: 26 Jun 2003
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Location: West Bend, WI

PostPosted: 03.05.2004 10:21 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I saw it last September. I'm foggy on the details, so I'll just paste in what I said in a screening log: "Hypnotic, thrilling, mesmerizing--I only wish it was more so. I think its failure to sweep me up in its scope has something to do with the fact that its troll through Russian history is like a serene, conventional postcard--where history is loaded with passion, blood, terror, altruism (all the stuff of humanity), this version is a textbook that settles for stateliness. Like history, art ought to have even more pizazz, more kick--and the Hermitage's art on display, often blocked by gauche actors, has the raw power which the film entire lacks. I know I'm talking about personal preferences here, but there it is. "

Eric
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matt header
Studio Exec


Joined: 26 Jun 2003
Posts: 623
Location: Milwaukee, WI

PostPosted: 03.05.2004 11:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

While the movie is certainly visually and stylistically groundbreaking, and casts a very hypnotic spell, I somewhat agree with Eric: it is a fond vision of Russian history in all of its magnificent glory, but the power of the historical events can seem muted (we are, after all, strolling through an art gallery). I think your comparison to Tarkovsky is appropriate, Mr. Lime, since this movie matches his stately beauty, but I think that may be somewhat to the film's deficit: for a film about putting history and art into life, it can be static (though statically beautiful). [/i]
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The Third M?n
Studio Exec


Joined: 09 Sep 2003
Posts: 575
Location: Chasing Stef around post-war Vienna

PostPosted: 03.06.2004 9:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

As I said, the film is far from perfect and tends to drag in parts, but visually, it's unmatchable. It's a very good film, in my opinion, though there are people out there who say that the making of it is far more interesting than the film itself. I must get a hold of the DVD, because I saw the film on TV -- on BBC Four.
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Kenji
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Joined: 11 Dec 2004
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PostPosted: 12.11.2004 6:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

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 costumes and choreography (marshalling a cast of almost a thousand); 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 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; 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 floating vessel; a dream, death, eternity...and none of the above.
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