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:: Russian Ark

Filmmaker/Director Alexander Sokurov is, in his own words, “…sick of editing”. His thirteenth film Russian Ark has found fame as the first-ever single screen, single-take full-length feature. The Ark referred to in the title of this film is the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, the opulent and gilded home to thousands of precious art works. The Hermitage celebrates its 300th anniversary this year and Sokurov’s film is a fitting tribute to the former palace and home of the Russian Monarchy.

Russian Ark begins with an unseen narrator entering the Hermitage where he meets the Marquis, a cynical French diplomat from the 19th Century. The men become accomplices in a journey through Russia’s turbulent and tragic past. The Marquis has a love/hate relationship with Russia and all things Russian, whilst the narrator questions his country’s troubled relationship with its past and with modern day Europe. From these opposing political and cultural points of view, the two men embark on a tour through the museum as well as through selected epochs of Russian history. Going from room to room, they leap through time observing 18th Century aristocrats at the opera or attending affairs of state and present day museumgoers perusing the works of Rubens, Rembrandt, El Greco and Van Dyck. Each room entered by the pair reveals another time and place in Russian history. We see Catherine the Great frantically making her way to the lavatory, Peter the Great thrashing one of his Generals with a whip, the young Anastasia running through the great halls, and the poet Pushkin mingling with a crowd. We see the family of the last Tsar dining together, oblivious to the impending revolution and hundreds of dancers waltz at the last Great Royal Ball of 1913.

From a purely strategic point of view, the film is a massive technological achievement. After months of rehearsals, Sokurov was given access to the Hermitage for four hours one afternoon in order to shoot the film. Director of Photography Tilman Buettner’s handheld steady cam visits 33 virtual soundstages that are lit for 360 degree shooting and capture live performances by three orchestras. The film contains over 4000 actors and extras, all filmed moving amongst priceless pieces of art. The backward tracking shot used in the final scene containing 3000 actors in full regalia is the dramatic culmination of an intense narrative about the cultural history of Russia. This final scene is curiously moving and goes some way to answering some of the eternal questions regarding the uniqueness, independence and significance of cultural life in a land that loves Europe, yet which is not part of Europe.

Screening at the Lumiere Cinemas and the Classic Cinemas