A wise man sells his soul to Mefistofeles a Satan helper recognizing knowledge will bring no happiness to human life. A German Romanticism' portrait, on how love could overcome reason. Based on the true life of Dr. Johannes Faust, a German alchemist, who is supposed to have been killed when trying to discover the philosopher's stone.
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Down in the dumps
It begins with the evisceration of a corpse, and that could be a metaphor for the way this alleged adaptation proceeds - except that Goethe's "Faust" is not dead, only given the dead-letter treatment here. The film's emphasis is on gross, clumsy physicality: you never saw so many actors stumble as they walk, bumping into things and one another; too artless and unfunny for slapstick, the universal jostling is prevented from being laughable by funereal pacing and the array of hangdog faces. Since the Faust figure (Johannes Zeiler) conveys very little in the way of intellect, all that elevates him is that most of the other characters have been made open-mouthed gapers, presumable halfwits. Wit is barred out anyway by the color-palette, all various hues of mud - the surest sign of high-serious intentions in movies nowadays. In exterior shots the sky is overexposed so it shows as a gleamless white blur; the earth is dun-colored, greens are gray-tinged, and reds are virtually absent, on their rare appearance tending to brown, like bloodstained linens oxidizing. The cut of the men's clothing updates the story to several decades after Goethe's time: trousers are worn, rather than breeches and hose. The fabrics are thick, heavy, coarse, and of course dark-dyed and fraying badly. No one could think of playing the dandy here. Strangely, there seems to be no Republic of Letters either. The few characters with intellectual interests neither write nor receive letters; they're isolated from enlightenment and worldly affairs: no one awaits the postman; no one looks at a journal of science or politics or the arts - this is a stupefying omission, as false to the historical period as it would be to Goethe's own. Sokurov's flight from historical particulars strands his Faust: the fable and the character become "timeless" in all the wrong ways. Faust doesn't represent his age's high hopes, or its seeds of self-destruction; but then he doesn't represent our age either. Sealed off in its remoteness, Sokurov's "Faust" is just another - all-too-familiar - sulking, glooming art-house reverie.
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