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.
Echoes of Tarkovsky and Rembrandt in profound study of human loss.
A mesmerizing, devastating study of grief, Sokurov's film definitely shows the influence of Tarkovsky, but Rembrandt's presence looms as well. The film is shot in EXTREME high contrast with colors so muted it often appears a bronzed black-and-white. People and surroundings just tenuously emerge into light suggesting the 'thinness" of everyday reality and the insubstantiality of life (images are given a two-dimensional quality) when we are suddenly placed in the omni-presence of death. As our experience of the stability and certainty of life is distanced so too our connection to its movement and flow is lost. Certainty of purpose and even of identity slip from our hands. We lose the "why" of any action. We are transfixed by inertia. This is transcendently illustrated in the scene where the young man stares into his dead father's eyes. Perhaps the character, while trying to incorporate the reality of this death, is also searching for who he NOW is since he is no longer the son of THIS man. What I am trying to say in more basic terms is that this film expresses the sense of everlasting loss and the sudden awareness of our own mortality and evanescence, brought on by a death of someone we love (or are tied to), in a more profound way than almost any work of art I have encountered.
As another commentator stated, the vision here is crystal clear. No action here SIGNIFIES anything else. Each is given its own substantive weight (how can a man folding up his dead father's bedding signify anything larger or more resonate than that experience itself, if it is presented in its fullness?). Sokurov's effort is to find the moments of immutable truth glimpsed within an ever-shifting human context and consciousness. His work is a lyrical extension of Tarkovsky's effort to capture elemental truths into by eliminating or minimizing context. Thus sound, in particular, is tightly controlled; limited solely to those effects which accent the character's (and our) experience. Idiosyncrasies of buildings and landscapes are virtually eliminated. Individual characteristics and peculiarities of personality are lost in the shadows. The effect is to give us the singular and universal experience of human grief and loss (if that makes any sense). It is interesting to note that the slightest play with the dream-scapes or grotesqueries that this situation could easily conjure would put us squarely in the land of David Lynch's ERASERHEAD, which this film resembles in the materials used its construction (photography, sound, pacing, etc.). Sokhurov, however, is more formally disciplined, and appears more focused on illuminating the waking truths that shape our dreams than animating the dream truths that color our consciousness.
Sorry about the purple (film school) prose but it's very difficult to discuss this film in other terms.
15 of 17 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?