Sunday, August 17, 2014

Русский ковчег (Russian Ark) (2002)

Director: Aleksander Sokurov
Writers:  Boris Khaimsky, Anatoli Nikiforov, Aleksander Sokurov
Cast:      Sergey Dreyden, Mariya Kuznetsova, Leonid Mozgovoy
Language: Russian

2000 cast members, 3 orchestras, 33 rooms, 300 years, ALL IN ONE TAKE of 96 minutes.

A 19th century French aristocrat, notorious for his scathing memoirs about life in Russia, travels through the Russian State Hermitage Museum and encounters historical figures from the last 200+ years. The French Aristocrat who serves as the narrator's guide is based on Marquis de Custine, who visited Russia in 1839 and wrote a book about his visit, La Russia en 1839. The only thing we know about the narrator is that he died in some terrible accident and is now a ghost who is invisible to all others except 'The European' guide. While Noah's Ark carried specimen for sustaining all forms of animal life in planet, the Russian Ark carries pieces of Russian history and culture from this 300 year span and as is evident from some of the conversations in the film culture is very important to human civilization. It is something that should be allowed freely to evolve as more and more people let go off things like religion, nationalism etc, the culture is an essential thing that occupy people's mind as well as helping them develop their own thinking. 

I have always thought Russian culture, at least when it comes to literature, is considered as among the richest in the world after the middle ages. When it comes to cinema as well, although I have experience of watching only Trakovsky films first hand, Russian ones are considered as revolutionary. But in this film, the European laments that Russia under Czarist regime during his times didn't cultivate originality and made its artists make copies of sculptures found in places like Vatican. The narrator is from the recent times since he makes a comment about the revolution that lasted for seventy years which can only be about Russia under the socialists after the Bolshevik revolution. In this era also there was significant restrictions on artistic freedom and one can feel this film is also made under such restrictions. The collapse of USSR didn't make way for Western style capitalist democracy but it rather ushered in Crony Capitalism which made Oil Oligarchs under an autocratic democracy if you can call it that.  The final ball room sequence end with all the people making way to the door to what presumably is a Bolshevik Russia. This happens with the narrator bidding goodbye to 'The European' which is nod towards Russia's revolution which made it veer further away from Europe unlike other revolutions like in France which turned them into Capitalist democracies.

The film was shot using digital camera with a hard disk that could record 100 minutes worth of footage. It was completed in the third attempt with the first two takes stopped due to technical glitches. It is a landmark film in cinema history and a must watch.

Rating: 5/5