Monday, September 15, 2014

Russian Ark

Directed and narrated by Alexander Sokurov and written by Sokurov and Anatoli Nikiforov, Russian Ark is the story about the events at the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg told through a ghost who watches these events in the span of three centuries. Shot entirely in one entire take, the film explores these moments of time where the evolution of this place occurs. Starring Sergei Dreiden. Russian Ark is a dazzling and intoxicating film from Alexander Sokurov.

The film is a plot-less story where a ghost finds himself at the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia as he watches many events unfold through the span of three centuries. All of which is told from this unseen narrator who at times would break the fourth wall as he gazes into many of the events as joining him is this French composer (Sergei Dreiden) who finds himself speaking Russian as he would also comment on what he’s seeing. Among them are parties in the 18th and 19th Century, lunch with the Romonovs, various ceremonies, and people looking at the paintings in present time. The film’s screenplay by Alexander Sokurov and Anatoli Nikiforov, with additional dialogue by Boris Khaimsky and Svetlana Proskurina, has this looseness where it avoids any kind of plot structure or any kind of scenarios. It all takes place in this palace that has become a museum where it plays into a world of what it once was and those who are seeing it.

Sokurov’s direction is truly astonishing for the fact that is shot entirely in one entire take in an entire day where anything could’ve gone wrong. It is shot from the perspective of the narrator that follows everything that goes on from room to room where there is always something happening. Much of which is presented in a continuous steadicam that captures everything with its approach to wide shots and close-ups. There is also moments where time is distorted where one room is set in the 18th Century and then another could be set in the 20th/21st Century where people are looking at paintings and sculpture where the composer and narrator would interact with them. It would then go into another room where moments of history are taking place as well as commentaries about what is happening as if the fourth wall is broken.

Since it’s a very daring film where there’s a lot of extras and people in the room, there is an unpredictability that is engaging to watch where it brings an excitement to the sense of the unknown. Even as it includes some ceremonial scenes where choreography is a key aspect of the film whether it’s a military ceremony or a ball where the composer and narrator are either observing or taking part in the event. It has moments that are quite lavish and those that are very intimate as Sokurov manages to capture something that feels real in its 96-minute running time where the film is presented in real time. Overall, Sokurov creates a truly exhilarating and enchanting film about many events happening and such at the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg.

Cinematographer Tilman Buttner does amazing work with the cinematography to capture the different lighting schemes that occur in many of the film‘s interior settings as well as a few exterior shots as it has this panoramic look in the way the camera moves as Buttner is also the film‘s camera operator. Editors Stefan Ciupek, Sergei Ivanov, and Betina Kuntzsch do nice work with the few edits that occur in the opening credits and closing credits while gathering whatever takes was used throughout entire production to create something that feels like a continuous shot. Art directors Natalya Kochergina and Elena Zhukova do fantastic work with the look of some of the rooms to recreate some of the balls and ceremonies that occur during the film.

Costume designers Maria Grishnova, Lidiya Kryukova, and Tamara Seferyan do brilliant work with the array of period costumes and uniforms wore by the many extras in the film to capture those different periods of time. The sound work of Sergei Moshkov and Vladimir Persov is superb for the atmosphere it creates in some of the rooms where some of it is sparse while other scenes might have more broader sounds such as the ballroom scene. The film’s music features a lot of classical Russian pieces from Mikhail Glinka and Tchaikovsky as well as pieces by Henry Purcell and Georg Philipp Telemann where much of the arrangements are made by the film’s composer Sergei Yevtushenko who provides a few low-key pieces that are mostly ambient-based cuts.

The film’s casting by Tatyana Komarova is great as it features many extras as well as small performances from Vladimir Baranov as Nicholas II, Anna Aleksakhina as Alexandra Fedodorovna, Marksim Sergeyev as Peter the Great, and Mariya Kuznetsova as Catherine the Great. Director Alexander Sokurov does excellent work in his narration that plays into this very offbeat role of a ghost whose face is never seen as Sokurov brings a lot of strange yet mesmerizing approach to his role. Finally, there’s Sergei Dreiden in an incredible performance as this mysterious French composer who is an observer and commentator on everything he sees as it’s a role filled with some humor and wonderment.

Russian Ark is a tremendous film from Alexander Sokurov. Armed with some amazing technical achievements and a premise that is out of this world but intriguing to watch. It’s a film that showcases a world that once gone and can be recreated through imagination as it blends with the modern world. In the end, Russian Ark is a magnificent film from Alexander Sokurov.

© thevoid99 2014


Dan Heaton said...

I saw Russian Ark in the theaters and found it mesmerizing, especially when you consider the technical achievements. I wonder if it would help up so well at home. I'm not sure how it could.

thevoid99 said...

I'm sure it would've been a more enthralling experience in the theaters. It's definitely a film that is unlike anything out there and certainly needs to be seen more.