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.
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Third part in Aleksandr Sokurov's quadrilogy of Power, 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 General Douglas MacArthur who offers him to accept a diplomatic defeat for survival.
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
Technically impressive, content-wise it was interesting rather than engaging
An unnamed and unseen filmmaker finds himself in the Hermitage museum in St Petersburg in what appears to be the 18th Century. No one seems to be able to see him except his travelling companion, Frenchman Marquis de Custine, who he talks to. Together the two of them go around the museum, flitting between time as they go, gradually covered 300 years of Russian history.
I was drawn to this film as I have recently had to install digital television in my house (just for 24!) and I figured that I might as well see what the channels had to offer. After working out that I had access to numerous shopping channels I also found that I had BBC4, the arts and history channel, and that it was to be showing this film. I was interested in it not for my love of Russian history but for the fact that it was done in one take and, for that reason, I quite enjoyed it.
As far as plot goes, I really think you need to have an existing knowledge of Russian history as this film will not help you understand anything about it other than a passing impression. This was the case for me as I know next to nothing of the history, but I was still able to gleam some things about the political relationships between Russia and Europe as well as some of the main players. However it never got to the point where I was taken or engaged by the material; interested is perhaps a more fitting word to use - and that's still a good thing.
Technically the film is gripping and very impressive. Much was made of Snake Eye's 20 minute one-take opening (even thought it was actually 3 takes) or Goodfella's seamless move from street to table, but this film blows them away. I cannot even imagine the sheer logistics involved in creating such an effect. It would be impressive if the film was all shot in one room with a few cast members, but this film moves around the museum with a cast of thousands and set pieces that vary from two people looking at paintings to a massive ballroom scene. I was held totally impressed by the whole film as the entire one take was delivered seamlessly, without flaw. For this reason the acting is impressive whether it is Dontsov's acerbic Frenchman or just some extra's - everyone had to get it right bang on time and they did.
Overall this film will be a masterpiece if you have a good working knowledge and understanding of Russian history. However even if you don't know that much (like me), the technical aspect of this film will impress you no end even if the material is best seen as `interesting' at best.
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