A modern filmmaker magically finds himself transported to the 18th century, where he embarks on a time-traveling journey through 300 years of Russian history in Alexander Sokurov?s masterpiece. Filmed in HD with director... more »s commentary« less
TECHNOLOGICALLY -- AND EMOTIONALLY -- BREATHTAKING CINEMA
Larry L. Looney | Austin, Texas USA | 09/23/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"One of the most visually stunning films ever made, Alexandr Sokurov's RUSSIAN ARK is a landmark creation on many levels, many of which have been touted in numerous articles and reviews. From a purely technological aspect, it's the first feature-length film ever made using a single camera photographing a single 96-minute shot in one take, with no edits. The documentary feature on the DVD gives the viewer an inside look at the challenges of this approach - made more daunting by the fact that during the winter in St. Petersburg, the crew only had about 4 hours of daylight with which to work. The logistics requiring the crew surrounding the camera - including the director - to stay out of view, even as the cinematographer spun 360º from time to time, are a major work or choreography in themselves. Sokurov's dedication to his project - and the dedication of his crewmembers - is both apparent and very moving.In an interview included in the `making of' documentary on the DVD, the director states `I'm sick of editing. I don't want to experiment with time. I want to screen real time - it should be as it is. One doesn't have to fear the flow of time.' So many filmmakers are so concerned that their audience's attention span is so short that they will become bored if things don't `move right along' - it lowers cinema to the `lowest common denominator', fails to challenge the audience, and, in the final analysis, insults the viewer's intelligence. There's no danger of that in any of Sokurov's work - the viewer's mind (and emotions) are given quite a workout, and, as with physical exercise, are stronger for it in the end.Some critics - who perhaps have no patience for being required to think about what they're seeing - criticize Sokurov and other visionary directors (such as the great Andrei Tarkovsky) as being cold and emotionless. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sokurov has stated in several forums that one of the goals of RUSSIAN ARK - and all of his work - is to evoke strong emotions in the viewer. The methods of his creation might be different from those we have come to expect from the major Hollywood studios - but they are very effective, and more thought provoking in the bargain.In RUSSIAN ARK we experience Russia's treasured museum, the Hermitage, from the point of view of a `visitor' - we never see his face, only hear his voice and thoughts (by Sokurov himself) as he walks through the Winter Palace, viewing tableaux from 300 years of Russian history enacted before his eyes. He is accompanied for most of his journey by another character - unnamed in the film, but based on the Marquis de Custine, who published a travel book in 1839 entitled EMPIRE OF THE CZAR: A JOURNEY THROUGH ETERNAL RUSSIA - with whom he converses and debates the scenes they see before them. We witness Peter the Great berating one of his generals; a play written by the Tsarina is performed for her and selected guests; the appearance before the Tsar of a delegation from Persia, there to apologize for the murder of a Russian diplomat in their country; a grand ball featuring a full symphony orchestra and hundreds of dancers (perhaps the visual climax of the film); and in perhaps the film's most poignant moment, we witness Tsar Nicolas and his family dining together, blissfully unaware of their impending fate. Along the journey from room to room, from tableau to tableau, the viewer, along with the narrator and the Marquis, can gaze upon some of the most breathtaking art the world has ever produced. Even the building itself, with its incredible architecture and opulent outfittings, is a character in its own right - Sokurov's vision has brought the Hermitage to life in a way that draws the viewer right into every frame.The director has succeeded marvelously in his effort to show the `living' aspects of history, of art. Museums have an undeserved reputation for being `dead' places - they couldn't be more alive. The dangers in abandoning or forgetting our past have been shown time and time again, in both social and political theatres. As the Marquis states at one point during the film, `Everyone can see the future - but no one remembers the past.'Sokurov stated that he had long held a dream of `making a film in one breath' - he has achieved that beautifully in RUSSIAN ARK, and it will take your breath away as well. This is cinema for the time capsule.As far as I have been able to ascertain, the only other Sokurov film available in the US is MOTHER AND SON - check it out as well, and pray that more of his work will become accessible. The best way to see any great film is, of course, on the screen - so don't pass up any opportunity to experience him in that way, either."
St.Petersburg 's Hermitage is the Russian Ark
prisrob | New EnglandUSA | 02/01/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"A visually spellbinding feat of cinematic technology by the Director, Alexsandr Sokurov brings us the "Russian Ark". This movie takes place in St. Petersburg, Russia, and brings us ninety minutes of the history of "The Hermitage Museum" told in an unusual image of the 18th and 19th centuries. The remarkable piece of this movie is that it is shot in one fluid take using High Definition video cameras.The State Hermitage is in actuality 6 buildings on the embankment of the River Neva. The most magnificent of the buildings is the Winter Palace, residence of Russian Tsars from 1754 to 1762. The Hermitage took 2 1/2 centuries to build and exemplifies pieces from the Stone Age to the 20th Century. There are over 3 million pieces of art on display from Da Vinci to Monet. Some of the most exciting times took place during the German Invasion in 1941. We are indeed fortunate that many hid the treasures within, and that the treasures were found after the war. The Hermitage is open to the public and you can find more information on their web page:
http://www.hermitage.ru/html_En/index.html867 actors practiced for months to dance the mazurka in the ballroom, march to a military salute or watch a theatre performance. There was one take only and anything could go wrong at any time. There were years of development and preparation for the 4 hours of filming. Sokurov depended upon German HD specialists KOPP MEDIA to assist with the details of the script. How a camera would move, the distance of feet to be covered in the narrative, and the use of a steadicam. A hard disk recording system was developed that was portable and equipped with an ultra-stable battery. One shooting day with 4 hours of light was the magic number.A Marquis, a limber European in dress black is the film's guide. He is invisible to most and he leads the narrator through each room and gallery. He interacts with guests but others do not see the "ghost". The Marquis takes us from the 17th century to the present. We meet Catherine the Great, Nicholas I, and there is no explanation of what is happening or what are their roles. We are left to our imagination and the beautiful rooms and halls and galleries that are The Hermitage. The last thirty minutes are dedicated to 3 orchestras and the ballrooms and the dancing and the exquisitely dressed people of the times. We are but trespassers in this venue, but we are left to wonder the marvels of The Hermitage, and the wonder of this film. prisrob"
St Petersburg as an Ark of Russian Culture
Grady Harp | Los Angeles, CA United States | 09/16/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Aleksandr Sokurov has created a unique, wondrous masterpiece of a film in his great homage of Russian history and art and the Hermitage Museum. Four years in the planning, a cast of thousands, exquisite reproductions of costumes that span the three hundred years of Russian history, and brilliant cinematography by the German Tilman Buttner, Sokurov has condensed the essence of Russian culture in a 90 minute non-stop 'live' filming within the halls of the Hermitage museum (all 5 palaces known as the winter palaces of the Tsars). The result is an enchanting, bewitching, meandering tour of Russian from the time of Catherine the Great, Peter the Great, Pushkin, the Romanovs - Nicholas I and II - to the final ball in the palace the night Tsarist Russia ended. Our tour guide is the off camera voice of Sokurov in conversation with a French Marquis and assorted ghosts of the past as we seamlessly view glimpses of Russia's past, scenes like an actual play that Catherine the Great wrote and watched, the writer Pushkin, the Romanov family at their last supper in the palace and the grand ball that culminates this stage of the glory of Russia. The ballroom scene is resplendent with vast numbers of costumed actors dancing a mazurka to the music (Glinka's mazurka from his opera 'The Life of the Tsar') provided by the Maryinski Orchestra conducted by no less than Valery Gergiev! As the guests finally leave the Hermitage museum the camera focuses on an open window overlooking the sea on which the city of St Peterburg floats. We then know that we have been on an ark of Russian culture for the past 90 minutes - an immeasureably beautiful and sensitive document that has captured all the mystery of Russia's history, presented with tenderness and finesse and with the extraordinary facility using the newest of digital camera technology. This is a magnificent epic film and deserves a wide audience on its own. The additional information provided by a 30 minute "How the film was made" on the DVD is equally informative and graceful. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!"
Russian Ark At Its Best on DVD
Grady Harp | 09/09/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Russian Ark" is the story of a young filmmaker who suffers a blow on the head while filming a project at the Hermitage - the former palace of the Tsars which is now a national museum. As the filmmaker wanders through the museum, he finds that he is detached from his own time; he wanders in the company of a French diplomat - an historical figure who wrote a travelogue about Russia in the 19th century - he finds himself witnessing vignettes from Russian history. Some are far in the past - the Russian poet Pushkin appears, as does Peter the Great (who is in the act of condemning his son to death for rebellion). Others are more recent; in particular, he sess the terrible sufferings of the people of Leningrad during their city's 1,000-day siege during World War II. Through it all, the Ark bears and preserves its cargo of history, culture, and memory.My wife and I had the privilege of seeing "Russian Ark" in a theater last winter. The movie is wonderful; for myself, it recalled my visit to Leningrad in 1976, one of my most precious memories. However, the movie was shot in high-definition video and the transfer to film was poorly done. At times, the image was muddy and murky, the sound was not always in synch with the image, and the color palette changed drastically from one reel to another. The DVD corrects these flaws, and reveals Alexander Sokurov's film in its glory:
a feast for the eye.Memory is, in large part, what makes us human. Sukorov's film is a testament to human memory, and to the the memories, glorious and terrible, that are particularly Russian. See it, and grow wise."
Ark of Ages
Simon | Sonoma, CA | 04/11/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This film transcends itself: The grand tour of the Russian age of European influences crawls to a halt with the advance of the German armies to the gates of St. Petersberg. We see the grand royal entourage in their final days of glory slowly filing out of the Winter Palace as if floating into eternity beyond the doors of existence as ghosts watch their departure. This is a film that filming was meant for: quiet, elaborate, detailed, with little dialogue, no "story", and one long, unbroken flow of camera that carries the viewer into history and beyond."