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54 out of 60 people found the following review useful:

Where is the soul?

Author: saschakrieger from Germany
9 February 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Film review: Faust (Director: Alexander Sokurov)

Be warned: Do not expect Goethe's Faust. While acknowledging the most famous adaptation of the Faust saga and using some lines from Goethe's text, this is entirely Alexander Sokurov's vision. The final instalment of a tetralogy about power (the other parts having featured Hitler, Lenin and Emperor Hirohito), Faust is far removed from the well-known drama about the knowledge-seeking explorer of ultimate truths we have come accustomed to associated with the name. The things this Faust, although a scientist, is looking for, are much more basic. At first he is little more than a hungry beggar trying to get food and money. Later he craves for Margarethe whom he regards as little more than a desired sex partner. There is nothing Faustian about this Faust who believes neither in God nor a soul and has discarded knowledge along with the other two. When he disembowels a corpse in the opening scene, he no longer expects to find anything, he does it out of little more than boredom. And even if he did find something: He wouldn't really care. This is an aimless Faust - and because of it a restless one. He is constantly on the move, less concerned with where he is going than getting away from wherever he is. A driven wanderer, not a determined searcher, frantic, harassed, as if on the run. Sokurov's camera stays with him, mirroring his hectic movements and creating a rhythm very much its own. This not at all metaphysical search is conducted at an ever- increasing speed, threatening to swallow up the protagonist. It begins to slow down when he meets the usurer, a grossly disfigured man who is Sokurov's version of Mephisto. But as Faust is much reduced in grandeur so is the devil's agent, a miserly moneylender and pawnbroker, nothing more. As Faust meets the usurer, the frantic pace eases into something of a ghostly dance as Faust, properly fed, turns his desire on Margarethe. When he succeeds, all comes to a stop: Drenched in angelic light, there is a moment of complete arrest, time stands still, and we just see their faces in total forgetful bliss. But it can't last. And it doesn't.

Repeatedly, lines from Goethe's drama are spoken but as the film advances more and more of Faust's words end up uttered - and often ironically altered - by the usurer. They sound hollow at best and are, at worst, exposed as nothing but beautiful nonsense. The meaning we seek - and believe to find - in Faust, it has long departed, if it ever existed. The soulless universe Faust proclaims - Sokurov gives it its face: This is an ugly world, inhabited by ugly or at least strange people - memorable: Hanna Schygulla as the usurer's "wife" - bizarre but unquestioned happenings and no good whatsoever. There is a pale, sometimes blinding light over this universe, shapes get distorted in what appears to be the world of a dream, a nightmare. Who is the dreamer? Faust, the "devil", we?

All appearance of any sort of "reality" vanishes after Faust finally succeeds in his wooing of Margarethe. Faust finds himself and the usurer in a barren landscape remnant of Goethe's Faust 2, he meets the dead but there is nobody living. In a final act of childlike defiance he stones the usurer, however, he doesn't die. Faust doesn't need him anymore - they have long been one and the same. As Faust wanders off, he has become an unthinking pleasure seeker, the polar opposite of Goethe's explorer and man of action.

Sokurov has created a visual and atmospheric universe very much his own. The images seem covered with a yellow-greenish patina, in their paleness they embody the lifelessness of those dream creatures, those walking dead. Distorted figures and shapes help propel the film more and more into a dream state, yet the world Sokurov conjures up - whether "real" or not - is fully consistent. At times it feels like being inside a Hieronymus Bosch painting, it is a dirty, ugly, primitive, dying world. There may be no other living director who is capable of creating such a distinct and thoroughly convincing vision.

Yet this strength is also the weakness of his film. The deliberately placed shock moments, the total refusal to create any believable character, the strict adherence to a counter-reality totally removed from anything we know, helps close this universe hermetically. We may get a glimpse of it but it is like looking from the safe distance at something disgusting. So fascination is replaced by disgust, what first seems like a revelation becomes annoying, and in the end this whole story turns to a modestly shocking horror tale that leaves the viewer cold. What remains, his a visually stunning, almost revolutionary piece of film making that perfectly reflects its subject: it lacks a soul.

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46 out of 63 people found the following review useful:

"Dramatic and visually exceptional..."

Author: Sindre Kaspersen from Norway
20 January 2012

Russian screenwriter and director Alexandr Sokurov's fifteenth feature film which he wrote, is a loose adaptation of the classic German legend "Faust" by German writer and poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832). It premiered In competition at the 68th Venice Film Festival in 2011, was shot on location in Spain and Iceland and produced by Russian composer and producer Andrey Sigle. It tells the story about scholar Heinrich Faust, a man with a great hunger for knowledge. Heinrich is not pleased with his mundane life, but when allured by Mephistopheles he becomes enchanted by a woman named Margarete.

This character-driven and dialog-driven voyage into the human psyche has a stringently structured narrative with continuous dialog and is an atmospheric, dramatic and visually exceptional movie experience which is distinctly directed by a masterful director who creates versatile perspectives and invigorating scenes with his characteristic use of colors and soft focus. His detailed period piece takes place in the Harz mountain chain of Northern Germany between the Weser and Elbe Rivers during the 19th century and contains adventurous milieu depictions which are complimented by Elena Zhukova's ardent production design and French cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel's noticeable cinematography.

This wandering, philosophical and in-depth study of character about a man who makes a life-altering compromise for the sake of knowledge, is significantly reinforced by the marvellous use of light and the engaging acting performances by Austrian actor Johannes Zeiler, Russian actor Anton Adasinskiy and the understated acting performance by Russian actress Isolda Dychauk in her second feature film role. The fourth and final part of Alexandr Sokurov's tetralogy about the nature of power and how it influences man, was preceded by "Moloch" (1999), "Telets" (2001) and "The Sun" (2005). It gained, among other awards, the Golden Lion at the 68th Venice Film Festival in 2011.

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17 out of 24 people found the following review useful:

unusual to say the least, but catching

Author: altyn from Italy
4 December 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Sokurov is in a very different line of business from Goethe. No ennobling Faust's motives here, no redemption thanks to beauty or God's grace. The spectator is cast down onto a greasy, grimy and smelly small-town world where a cynical Dr. Faust states at once that he has not found any soul when dissecting people's bodies. Material problems suffocate his thirst for knowledge, so the tempting devil is the town's moneylender (a character who does not believe in eternal good but believes in eternal evil). Faust lets himself be seduced with only formal protest and does not care a jot about signing his soul away, when the deal is at last offered; but, as he keeps saying, "for this, you must give me more". Margarethe is not enough, meeting the dead is not enough, understanding nature's work is not enough; Faust goes on, apparently to nowhere. It is a visually straining experience, but also enticing in retrospect.

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13 out of 19 people found the following review useful:

Absorbing and reasonably interesting Gothic melodrama, somewhat over-rated by a number of gushing critics.

Author: Jonathon Dabell ( from Todmorden, England
21 November 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Where to begin with a review of Aleksandr Sokurov's Faust? Loosely based on Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's 19th century play, this Russian film resolutely defies description on normal terms. Sokurov adorns his film with sumptuous visuals throughout but adopts a very idiosyncratic storytelling technique which will prove baffling for most viewers. This is not a film to be watched lightly – you will need to be wearing your "intellectual hat" if you're to make it through two and a half hours of Sokurov's exceptionally erudite movie-making style.

In the 19th century Heinrich Faust (Johannes Zeiler), a tormented scientist, desperately seeks answers to questions that hang tantalisingly beyond his grasp. Often he hires local grave robbers to dig up corpses so that he can dissect them, exploring the inside of the human body to satisfy his gruesome curiosity. What are the various organs for? What makes the body work? Is there such a thing as a soul and where is it to be found? Hopelessly disillusioned by his father's fake cure business, which mostly causes the death of patients rather than their recovery, Faust decides that he has had enough of spending his life chasing enlightenment. He is about to commit suicide when he is interrupted by the arrival of devilish deformed racketeer Mauricius (Anton Adasinsky). Mauricius leads Faust on a grotesque tour of the town, taking him into the underbelly of the community and tempting him with various sinful pleasures. He manipulates Faust at every opportunity, involving him in indulgence, lust and murder. Soon Faust finds himself infatuated with young washer-woman Margarete (Isolda Dychauk), and Mauricius eventually reveals that Faust can have her if he agrees to sign away his soul.

The film is remarkable to look at, with an array of amazing sets and locations beautifully captured by cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel. The characters consist of a gallery of peasants, rogues and freaks, all performed evocatively enough by the actors but too obscurely written for the audience to truly identify with them. Indeed, therein lies the main fault with Faust… it's not just the characters but the story itself that is too obscurely drawn for the film's own good. Faust won considerable admiration on the international circuit, crowning its achievements by becoming the recipient of the prestigious Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. It certainly has its strengths, such as the splendidly creepy performance of Adasinsky as the story's Mephistopheles figure, and the wonderfully evocative photography. However, one would have to question whether the film deserves to have been showered with the accolades that it has received. Things like confusing subtitling, perplexing dialogue and unclear story development drag it down somewhat and make one wonder quite why it has earned such towering praise. Having said that, Faust is worth a look, especially if you are interested in Faustian literature (e.g. Goethe's play, Thomas Mann's novel, or even the original Elizabethan play Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe). Just be sure to prepare yourself in advance for a very heavy-going experience and don't allow yourself to anticipate some sort of extraordinary experience as promised by the glowing reviews. A life-changing, mind-blowing masterpiece, no. A flawed but interesting Gothic melodrama, yes.

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7 out of 8 people found the following review useful:

Russian-German approach to the famous Goethe tale

Author: Thomas ( from Berlin, Germany
3 April 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The 2011-film Faust was one of the big awards players outside of Hollywood. It is not the first Sokurov movie in German, her made one in 1999 already in a movie series where "Faust" is already the fourth entry. He is one of the most famous Russian directors right now and has been especially present at the Palme d'Or film festival in the past. And he is also a writer for the movies he makes, such as this one. Personally, I feel this film looks much older than not even 5 years ago.

The main character is played by Johannes Zeiler and he looks a bit like Ralph Fiennes. Mephisto (or the Moneylender) has not acted in movies after this one here, but I read he has his own theater, so he's probably pretty active nonetheless. Apart from them, there are several (known) German actors in here, such as Hanna Schygulla or also Antje Lewald who I saw first in the Campers TV show. The film runs for considerably over two hours and is of course about the Goethe work, but still several steps are in-between. It is based on Yuriy Arabov's adaptation and was altered again by Sokurov into the final version. I am not too sure how close it is still to Goethe's work as it's been too long since we had it at school, but the three central characters are obviously all there.

All in all, I was not too impressed and sometimes I even felt it dragged, so I would not really recommend watching it unless you love story and are really curious about this adaptation.

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14 out of 22 people found the following review useful:

The fascination for knowledge, power and lust is brought home to us at our level of living and thinking.

Author: Wim Nijssen
17 October 2012

The way Sokurov treats this story makes it clear that his characters are all immersed in the day tot day doings, the earthly aspects of our lives, and it is hard or even impossible to escape. He brings it home to us, he gets us involved through his camera and sound, Faust becomes us. The first time I know of that this story was told in such a way that we can actually get inside Faust. Sokurov brings home some intriguing themes. Is Faust's soul maybe already missing from the start? What is our perception of Faust's hell and/or heaven, and how easy are we manipulated? We don't seem to need a lot of arguments and talking to win us over...

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12 out of 19 people found the following review useful:

Not Goethe, but a dark cabinet of psychological disorders

Author: enteredapprenticering from Switzerland
2 April 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This adaption orients itself on the original and legendary character of Dr. Faustus, but not in the Goethe version. As Dr. Faust is not an invention of Goethe, but actually a 15th century German legendary character, Sokurov portrays here the original story at its source. Faust is not driven by the wish to gain esoteric knowledge, but knowledge of how to seduce Margarethe as quickly as possible. Here lies the core: ANY character, even the ones that are not relevant to the story at all, is portrayed suffering from heavy psychological disorders. You name it, you find it: phobias, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, agoraphobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, delusional disorder, schizoaffective disorder, antisocial personality, borderline personality, histrionic and narcissistic personality disorders, even paraphilia (sexual arousal to objects, situations, or individuals that are considered abnormal or harmful to the person or others) is displayed by Mephisto, who is shown in this adaption as Moneylender. Wagner, who is Faust's student is shown suffering from classic ego-dystonic sexual orientation. This is actually what the whole adaption seems to be about: showing various characters with heavy psychological disorders who are fitted together in the story-line of the legendary character Dr. Faustus. The idea that Sokorov seems to have intended to portray is that the sexual force is the actual driving force of not only Dr. Faustus, but of most people in the sense of a primal force. My personal feeling is that the portrayal of psychological disorders is not helping to give the story-line of the legendary Dr. Faustus more appeal, but is as depiction of the human soul as dark cabinet unique as such and Faustian in itself as adaption. If you enjoy viewing a world of heavily disturbed personalities that are credibly acted out, this is your movie. If you want to see a movie that saves you reading Goethe's Faust, go find another movie. My vote: 6.5 of 10.

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5 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

The Doctor and Margarete

Author: petra_ste
14 November 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

At the very beginning of Faust, the camera plunges from the sky, descending to a small house in a rural town, and ends up zooming on the penis of a corpse dissected in an autopsy. In his retelling of one of the most famous tales of western literature, director Sokurov plays with symbols, juxtaposing spiritual and worldly, sacred and profane, water (associated with Margarete) and earth, sterility and fertility.

See also how the film plays with space: indoor locations are overcrowded and claustrophobic, the town a labyrinth of mud and bricks, the uncanny forest surrounding it resembles Doré's illustrations for Dante's Comedy. Only when Margarete appears - and at the very end - sets become less oppressive. The result is an insidious, subtly disquieting movie.

The occasional heavy-handed, distracting symbolism (the egg, the homunculus...) is redeemed by magnificent performances by the three leads. As Faust, Johannes Zeiler is exceptional in his vivid humanity, torn between sensuality and spirituality; as the object of his passion, lovely Isolda Dychauk gives a star-making turn. Anton Adasinsky as the "Moneylender" (the name Mephistopheles is never mentioned) is unctuous, porcine, whiny and malevolent, in a performance which defies all expectations for this kind of character and is all the more unsettling for that.


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3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

Another Faust

Author: dromasca from Herzlya, Israel
20 December 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I came to know quite late the works of the Russian director Alexander Sokurov, and I cannot say I know them well today either. The first one I have seen was Russian Ark, a splendid exercise in virtuosity, composition and visual beauty, but lacking almost completely any epic structure. Next came the 3rd film in his tetralogy about men and power, The Sun which had emperor Hirohito in his days of defeat at the end of WWII as main hero. Now I have seen the 4th film in the series, a very different, special and personal version of the story of Faust. I am yet to see the first two films in the same series which deal with the portraits of Hitler and Lenin, as well as other of his works that drew the attention of audiences and critics like 'Father and Son'. So the impressions here are to be seen as partial notes on my route of better knowing one of the major artists in modern cinema. I am yet to form a dependency for his work or to declare admiration for the director, but I may get there some day.

On many respects this 'Faust' is close to 'Russian Ark'. It is one of the most beautiful and complex pieces of visual art that I have seen lately and I cannot skip mentioning here in this context the name of the director of photography Bruno Delbonnel author of such other wonderfully filmed works like 'Amélie' or 'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince'. Sokurov creates a world of his own with hundred of characters, costumes, and behaviors studied and acted to the smallest detail. The world is a synthesis not only of the German world at the time Goethe wrote the original story but of all that was Europe from the Middle Ages to the 19th century. It can happen and it actually happens at any of the moments in that period.

Sokurov takes inspiration from the work of Goethe but does not follow it closely. This film is certainly not Goethe's Faust, it is at best 'inspired' by it. It is Sokurov's Faust before all - a work about a man, a scientist and a philosopher searching for the sense of life, mired by an incarnation of the Devil into knowing the savage real world and the wild people who populate it, choosing beauty in the person of a beautiful girl, selling the soul he does not believe it exists in order to spend a night with her, and eventually revolting against the payment he signed for. A more human Faust than in most of the other versions we know.

If this Faust was only a video art work I would have completely fell under its spell. It does have however a narrative dimension, and this is where I found the pace and the style unnecessarily complicated, and the usage of dialog too heavy to follow easily and to be a pleasant experience for the viewers. Acting on the other hand is exquisite - Johannes Zeiler is a Faust torn between the desire to conquer the universe by understanding its mechanics and the passion that burns up his human shell, Russian actor Anton Adasinsky is amazing as the ugly sub-human Moneylender who opens the door to Faust's meeting with the ugliness of the world, and the contrasting Isolda Dychauk as a young botticellian Margarete who descends directly from Vermeer's paintings. This is one of these movies where the attention is drawn at any moment by visuals, and when it ends you tell yourself that you must have missed many of the hidden and deeper ideas. This may be true, but not completely, as Sokurov seems to be one of those directors who love to keep some of the details explained for himself only, assuming that he knows them at all.

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4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

This version of 'Faust' is definitely worth seeing.

Author: Bryan Kluger from Dallas, TX
12 August 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Back in 2011, Russian director Aleksandr Sokurov tackled the iconic story of 'Faust', something that has been interpreted and done many times over since Johann Wolfgang von Goethe first wrote the version most recognized days a few hundred years ago. It's quite a big feat to tackle this subject matter and make work on an artistic and entertaining level, but Sokruov make it work and eventually the film went on to win the top award at the Venice Film Festival of that year.

If you're unfamiliar with the story of 'Faust', don't let this box art trick you. If you go solely from the box art, you might think this is a very boring period piece, but you would be wrong in that assumption. So wrong in fact, that the movie basically starts out with an image of a corpse's sexual organs. I know, how very 'Nekromantik' of them, right? The film centers on a man named Faust (Johannes Zeiler) who is very interested in what makes the world function, humans love, and if people really have souls.

Faust tries to research this and learn for his own sake. He even goes so far as to literally dig and play with people's guts and blood in order to find a higher plane of existence and soul to humanity. And yes, there is enough gore for your horror hounds out there to enjoy. Fast befriends Moneylender (Anton Adasinsky), who is basically the Devil himself, as he takes Faust on a journey through town, showing him the bad things of the world. But Faust soon comes infatuated with a beautiful woman named Gretchen (Isolda Dychauk).

Faust literally sells his soul to his new friend the Devil in order to have Gretchen, which sets off a series of events, which ultimately leaves Faust in Hell. Sokurov tends to tell this gruesome and twisted tale in an abstract way, more so than a literal way, and it takes a little time to understand what exactly is going on.

His camera-work is excellent and is a new take and very fresh adaptation of this classic tale. The set design is haunting and award worthy as well. The actors deliver on their performances spot on with this type of story telling, which to say the least is not for weak-stomached. It would have been nice to have a more cohesive narrative here, rather than someone narrating for us the entire time and a movie that is made with an abstract eye, rather than a literal one, would have done wonders for the entertainment value here, but one thing is for sure, you won't be able to look away here. This version of 'Faust' is definitely worth seeing.

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