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.
Originally a five-part semi-documentary series on Russian television, this scaled down release tells the story of a Russian naval commander in charge of an Arctic-based ship. The film ... See full summary »
Aleksander Sokurov brings the treasures of the Hermitage back into the light by making films about artists and their paintings. He has chosen the painter Hubert Robert, who spent a long ... See full summary »
Minimalistic masterpiece by tarkovsky's foremost pupil
The first time I saw Aleksander Sokurov's 'The Second Circle' was during a festival in Groningen, The Netherlands. During the credits that opened the film I thought it would have been better to go home and have a nap. Not because of the credits, they were as forbidding as in other Russian films, but because of my condition, severely undermined by lack of sleep and by the bombardment of Greenaway's 'Prospero's Books'. Anyone who goes to see a Sokurov film in those conditions runs the risk of annoying his fellow viewers with loud snoring. Sokurov's aim is not to keep his audience awake by providing entertainment. You have to be in the best of shapes. Or so I thought. What followed was one and a half hours of utmost concentration on a very slow film the dramatic content of which can be summarized in a few sentences. 'The Second Circle' is one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen. A son returns to the humble abode of his father after receiving the news of his death. We do not learn who he was and in the same way we learn nothing about the son who has to arrange his funeral. What we do see is a room with a bed. In the bed is a corpse. In case of a corpse there is a strict procedure that has to be followed. A doctor has to confirm the death. The only survivor has to pay a visit to the town hall. A bitch (pardon my French) from the funeral parlor arrives to negotiate the price of the funeral, treating the son like an infant. A coffin is delivered, the corpse is embalmed, put in the coffin and taken down the stairs in upright position. What is left behind is an empty room. The End. As is the case with all Russian films that are favoured by the small circle of cinephiles, you can ask yourself what Sokurov's films are all about. 'Days of Darkness' for instance was a magnificent film, but as a western viewer, not familiar with Russian symbolism, you had to wonder whether you had missed the point. According to Andrei Tarkovsky, Sokurov's shining example, the Russian frame of mind is inaccessible to western viewers. The result is endless interpretation. This is true as well for 'The Second Circle', which has led to elaborate speculation concerning the way in which Sokurov comments on contemporary Russian society. But anyone searching for symbolism in 'The Second Circle' is in my view looking at the wrong film, because Sokurov's little masterpiece is as clear as crystal. The preoccupation with death was already present in films like the aforementioned 'Days of Darkness' and in 'Madame Bovary'. In 'The Second Circle' Sokurov has stripped away the mystifying elements of his previous films and laid bare the essence of our frail existence using minimalistic means. Never before in cinema, in which death is often a welcome guest, has the inevitable goal of human life been lit so poignantly.
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