Georges and Anne are an octogenarian couple. They are cultivated, retired music teachers. Their daughter, also a musician, lives in Britain with her family. One day, Anne has a stroke, and the couple's bond of love is severely tested.
A married couple are faced with a difficult decision - to improve the life of their child by moving to another country or to stay in Iran and look after a deteriorating parent who has Alzheimer's disease.
Well, I have to admit that I've never been much of a fan of Sokurov's work. Rather on the contrary, I've considered all of his films which I've seen fairly tedious. But, as in the case of 'Russian Ark', one cannot deny his talent for opulent visuals and creative camera movement. However, how one could possibly deem this very loose adaptation of 'Faust' laudable is completely beyond me - because there are far superior film versions of this well-known story, first and foremost among them Murnau's.
What has always bothered me about Sokurov is derogatory treatment of female characters and use of superfluous or gruesome details - in this case best exemplified by the opening shot of a man's penis, then revealed to be that of a corpse in the process of being harvested by Faust for research. Or a totally unnecessary scene involving two drunken Russians. All women here are mere furniture, especially Gretchen, who hardly appears enough to merit even a reduction to an object of desire. Instead, there are endless interchanges between a bewildered, impoverished Faust and a less-than-impressive Mephisto, who is portrayed more as a salesman than a demon, thereby depriving the tale of much of its zest, and unduly limiting the means of expression of the actor - definitely the worst Mephistopheles I've ever seen on either screen or stage.
What I find absolutely unforgivable though is the altered ending, which takes excessive liberty with the tale as it is - and I'm not talking about Goethe, even though it is already quite preposterous to title the film as an adaptation of Goethe's Faust, and then but quote a few lines from the play. While art, of course, is at liberty to interpret the lore of culture freely, one cannot let Romeo and Juliet live, for instance, because then the whole point of the story is gone.
That is pretty much what Sokurov does to Faust here - for the sake of demonstrating his ability as a director, he changes the entire story to the extent of being unidentifiable, with no regard to the audience, or just about any definition of taste. Unfortunately, such creative sadism meets with the masochism of entrenched festival juries, preferring the old and tiresome over the young and relevant, which to me is about the only explanation how this self-indulgent, boring, dreadful piece could win the Golden Lion - notwithstanding the fact that this award has already lost much of its luster.
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