The Friday Afternoon Movie: Russian Ark

I must admit, I’m afraid I might be doing a great disservice with this week’s FAM. Not in the sense that the film chosen is of inferior quality or offensive; indeed I have plenty of those which I will no doubt post in the future, without any feelings of guilt. No, my unease comes with the inferior method of delivery. It arises from the fact that I may be exposing people to a film that should only be viewed in the highest possible fidelity which the above offering on YouTube is decidedly not.

Today’s FAM is Alexander Sokurov’s Russian Ark from 2002, a film that I might describe as “decadent” and “luscious” were I a man given to pithy, vague descriptors, which I assure you I am not [Editor’s Note: He is.] Filmed in one fluid take we follow the disembodied voice of our narrator (in actuality the voice of Sokurov) and unseen gentleman who intimates that he, in fact, died in a horrible accident. Accompanying him is “the European” (based on the Marquis de Custine). Together they explore the Winter Palace, which is now the centerpiece of the Russian Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. As they wander from room to room, so to do they wander through Russian history, though those well-versed in said history will note that events depicted are not in chronological order.

What follows is a technically astonishing [Editor’s Note: See?] piece of film-making. Meandering through 33 rooms and featuring over two thousand actors and three orchestras, the result is a history lesson within a dream. As such, it’s all the more frustrating to not be able to see all the small details present on the actors’ costumes are the information overload presented by the splendor of the Winter Palace. I urge you to track down a copy if you enjoyed it here as the experience is really night and day.

7 Responses to “The Friday Afternoon Movie: Russian Ark”

  1. Bean Says:

    Interesting. I knew there had to be people out there who would enjoy this film. I found it tedious and exasperatingly dull. Though it was pretty.

  2. Tequila Says:

    I readily agree with our dear Mad Man Ross here. This film deserves to be seen in the highest quality you can. So if you have a home theater or home theater Geek friend, this will make all that equipment worth it. See this on a big a screen as possible!

    The detail, the technique, and the films tale itself all deserve it.

    Most remarkable beyond the challenge of getting this in a fluid take (which took a few to say the least) is that it doesn’t have the pitfalls of costume dramas. The constant movement keeps the pace much like an enjoyable vivid dream or nightmare.

    One thing I’ve noticed is that no one has a middle of the road opinion on this film. People either love it or hate it. Most of the time they hate it because of the narration. I’ve also found people who are not big film fans respond the most positive to this film. So don’t think of this as just Art House fare or something only Cinephiles can appreciate.

    I’m curious to hear what other readers think about this particularly unique film…

  3. Erin Says:

    This has been a favorite to watch occasionally for a few years now. I fell in love with Russian history awhile ago and so it’s nice to switch it up and let my eyes do the real studying for once. The film is dreadfully slow and even a little boring at points, but then again, other moments make up for it. I love when they show Queen Katherine running off and when the narrartor is in the court or dances.

  4. libi Says:

    While the film is truly a technical feat, I find that Sokurov’s other work is far more worthy of exuberant praise.

  5. Phallus Nocturne Says:

    When that movie was screening near where I lived at the time, I had my doubt but I ended up watching it 4 time. The higher the resolution the better. It’s definitely worth traveling to see that movie on a big screen!

  6. Allie Says:

    Oh yes very much. Love this film! Somehow it reminds me of Orlando filmed by Sally Potter, with that sort of magic-realism traveling through time and space feeling…

  7. Gia Says:

    oh, i love this movie so much. i am a huge russophile, and i picked this one up at the library last year to watch. so beautiful! and the fact alone that it was created in one take is absolutely amazing.