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.
Third part in Aleksandr Sokurov's tetrology, following Moloch (1999) and Taurus (2001), focuses on Japanese Emperor Hirohito and Japan's defeat in World War II when he is finally confronted by Gen. Douglas MacArthur who offers him to accept a diplomatic defeat for survival.
The story of King George VI of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, his impromptu ascension to the throne and the speech therapist who helped the unsure monarch become worthy of it.
Helena Bonham Carter
An unseen man regains consciousness, not knowing who or where he is. No one seems to be able to see him, except the mysterious man dressed in black. He eventually learns through their discussions that this man is a 19th century French aristocrat, who he coins the "European". This turn of events is unusual as the unseen man has a knowledge of the present day. The two quickly learn that they are in the Winter Palace of the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, the European who has a comprehensive knowledge of Russian history to his time. As the two travel through the palace and its grounds, they interact with people from various eras of Russian history, either through events that have happened at the palace or through the viewing of artifacts housed in the museum. Ultimately, the unseen man's desired journey is to move forward, with or without his European companion. Written by
A meditation on the individual's journey from life to the hereafter
Focusing on three centuries of Russian history from Peter the Great to Tsar Nicholas II, Russian Ark, the latest film by Alexander Sokurov, is an amazing tour de force. Shot in one long 96-minute tracking shot with a cast of 2000 actors and extras, the film takes the viewer into the great Hermitage Collection in St. Petersburg, Russia, showing real works of art from 33 rooms and exploring their meaning in a larger context. More than just a great technical achievement, this is also a sublime meditation on the individual's place in the universe, one that does not recreate history but allows us to revisit it on a dreamlike stage where past, present, and future are one.
The film begins in the dark with the narrator (apparently Sokurov) commenting about how little he sees. "My eyes are open", he says, "and yet I see nothing". He does not know where he is but apparently has just died in an accident of some kind. Is this a movie? A play?" he asks. He receives no answer except a vision of 18th century aristocrats moving slowly into the Tsar's palace. An elegant white-haired man in a black cloak (Sergey Dreiden) suddenly appears and escorts the confused narrator into the corridors of the grand palace. "Everyone knows the present, but who can remember the past", says the stranger as they walk from one ballroom to the next, witnessing great works of art as well as ghost-like presences from Russia's past. We see works by El Greco, Rubens and Van Dyck in their awesome splendor. We run into Peter the Great thrashing a general, Catherine the Great looking for the bathroom, and Nicholas II, the last Russian Tsar hosting the Great Royal Ball of 1913, the last such formal occasion of its kind.
As we enter the Great Nicholas Hall, the opulent room is filled with thousands of aristocrats dancing the mazurka in gorgeous period costumes. A full orchestra is playing in the background and young soldiers are nattily dressed in their uniforms. How beautiful it all seems and how it appears they were destined to live forever but we all know how the nasty Bolsheviki spoiled the party. Ah yes, how green was my valley then. Sokurov said he wanted to make a whole film "in one breath" and he has succeeded in simulating the breathing process, pulling us in, then moving us out as we feel the rhythm of our own life beating with the swirl of lost humanity. At the end of Russian Ark, we see the peaceful flow of a river outside the hall to which the narrator comments, "The flow is forever. Life is forever." Having completed the past, our invisible guide is now ready to move into the endless silence that is, in the phrase of the Anglican priest Thomas Kelly, "the source of all sound".
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