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Russian Ark (2002) - Aleksandr Sokurov

Related: Russian cinema - filmed in one shot - 2002 in film

The best film of the 2000s. [Jul 2006]

Russian Ark (2002) - Aleksandr Sokurov [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

A narrator, who is unnamed, and unseen by the audience, and voiced by the director, wanders through the Winter Palace (now the Russian State Hermitage Museum) in St. Petersburg. The narrator implies that he has died, and is a ghost drifting through the palace. In each room he encounters various real and fictional people from various time periods in the Palace's three hundred year history. He is accompanied by a companion, 'the European' (played by Sergei Dreiden), who represents the nineteenth century traveller the Marquis de Custine, and who is visible to the audience. The fourth wall is repeatedly broken and re-erected; at times the narrator-director and the companion interact freely with the other performers, and at other times go completely unnoticed.

Russian Ark is film that was actually a single shot. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_Ark [Feb 2006]

Description

Russian Ark (??????? ??????) is a 2002 movie by Russian director Alexander Sokurov. It is notable for being the world's second unedited feature film: it consists of a single 90-minute Steadicam shot (the first was the 2000 film Timecode).

Synopsis
A narrator, who is unnamed, and unseen by the audience, and voiced by the director, wanders through the Winter Palace (now the Russian State Hermitage Museum) in St. Petersburg. The narrator implies that he has died, and is a ghost drifting through the palace. In each room he encounters various real and fictional people from various time periods in the Palace's three hundred year history. He is accompanied by a companion, 'the European' (played by Sergei Dreiden), who represents the nineteenth century traveller the Marquis de Custine, and who is visible to the audience. The fourth wall is repeatedly broken and re-erected; at times the narrator-director and the companion interact freely with the other performers, and at other times go completely unnoticed.

The film begins on a winter's day with the arrival by horse drawn carriage of a small party of men and women to a minor side entrance of the Winter Palace. The narrator (through whose eyes we see) meets one member of this party, 'the European', and follows him through numerous rooms of the Palace. As each room is entered, we find ourselves in a different period of Russian history (but not in chronological order).

The film shows, among other things, the spectacular presentation of operas and plays in the era of Catherine the Great; a formal court proceeding in which Tzar Nicholas I is offered a formal apology by the Shah of Iran for the death of Alexander Griboedov, an ambassador; the happy family life of the last Tsar's children; the formal changing of the Palace Guard; the museum's director whispering the need to make repairs during the rule of Josef Stalin; and a desperate Leningrader make his own coffin during the 900-day siege of the city in World War II.

The climax of the film is a grand ball, with many hundreds of participants in spectacular period costume, and a full orchestra conducted by Valery Gergiev, followed by a long final exit with a crowd down the Grand Staircase of the palace.

The narrator then leaves the building through a side exit and in a digitally enhanced sequence, the building is represented as an ark preserving Russian culture, and floating in the sea.

Production
The film displays 33 rooms of the museum, which are filled with a cast of over 800 actors.

Russian Ark was recorded in uncompressed high definition video using a Sony HDW-F900. There was a specifically designed camera for this film. The information was recorded directly onto hard disk. The disk could hold 100 minutes of information. But it could not be recorded over. Four attempts were made to complete the shot; the first three had to stop when mistakes were made, but the fourth attempt was completed successfully. The shot was executed by Steadicam operator Tilman BŁttner. The lighting cameramen on the film were Bernd Fischer and Anatoli Radionov (uncredited, although Sokurov later publically criticized would-be director of photography BŁttner).

Historical background
The narrator's guide, referred to as "the European" in the film, is based on the Marquis de Custine, who visited Russia in 1839 and wrote a widely-read book about his visit. A few biographical elements from Custine's life are shown in the film. Like the European, the Marquis' mother was friends with the Italian sculptor Canova and he himself was very religious. Throughout his book, La Russie en 1839, Custine mocks Russian civilization as a thin veneer of Europe on an Asiatic soul; in the film, this is why the European makes comments about Russia being a theater and the people he meets being actors. The Marquis' family fortune came from a porcelain works, hence the European's interest in the SŤvres porcelain waiting for the diplomatic reception. At the end of the film, which depicts the last imperial ball in 1913, the European appears to accept Russia as a European nation. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_Ark [Jul 2006]

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