Monday, July 13, 2009

Day 173: Russian Ark (2002) - Rank 5/5


This has to be one of the most brilliantly executed films I've seen. The sheer concept leads me to believe that director Aleksandr Sokurov has balls of solid brass. Within a 36 hour window, he and his crew entered St. Petersberg's glorious Hermitage Museum, dressed it for shooting, shot "Russian Ark," broke everything down and left. More mind-boggling still is the fact that the entire movie is a single, solitary POV shot (there are no "cheat cuts" as Hitchcock got away with in "Rope"). Top that with a fascinating plot that involves 2,300 extras AND the fact that the movie was done in only one take and you have what may be one of the most complex shootings ever staged.

The story begins in darkness as our "narrator" awakens, unsure if he was in an accident. He doesn't know where he is at first, but soon learns that he is in Russia in the 19th century. He follows a group of well-dressed aristocrats and soldiers into the palace where he meets an unnamed European marquis. Together, the two explore the palace, debating about Russian art, music and history versus their European counterparts. As they discuss and stroll from one room to the next, they move through different eras of history, witnessing the countless monumental events that took place in the palace. They enter one room and see Peter the Great fuming at his staff. They move on to another room and it is present day and the two engage in a conversation with the Hermitage Museum's artwork. They leave and enter another chamber where Catherine the Great is rehearsing one of the many plays she would write for her royal audiences.

It sounds like it might be dreadfully educational, but that's not the film's intent. Instead, it's more of an artistic look at "the shining," if you will. You move through the building experiencing its 300+ years of rich, cultural history at once, with ghosts of the past embodying different rooms. Sometimes the narrator and the European can interact and talk with them, sometimes not. And yet, they are accepting of their odd state, as if they too are merely players in whatever beautiful, and almost supernatural, event is taking place. It makes you feel as if you're reliving a pleasant dream, for there is logic and the absence of it all at once. Simply an astounding film.

Watch the Trailer

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