Russian Ark

"Good"

Russian Ark Review


I don't know where to begin with a critique of Russian Ark. The most natural point is to mention that it's shot in one continuous take that lasts 90 minutes and includes hundreds -- maybe 1,000 or more -- actors. While Russian director Aleksandr Sokurov would have you believe this was a pioneering idea, Mike Figgis did this in Time Code two years earlier -- and he used four cameras, all running continuous photography and displayed in a split screen.

The real ambition in Russian Ark comes not from its technical challenges, but from its cast and setting. The film takes place entirely within the Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg and comprises dozens of vignettes as the camera and its nameless narrator (Sergei Dontsov) flit from room to room on a journey through Russian history. The finale, which includes 300 pairs of dancers in a grand ballroom in the Hermitage, not to mention a full orchestra and countless spectators, is impressive to the point of being jaw-dropping. But the bulk of the film feels too much like filling time. Our hero (who bears a striking resemblance to Phyllis Diller) spends 20 minutes just figuring out what country he's in, and encounters with Catherine the Great, Anastasia, and other notable Russian luminaries are brief and cursory. (And where is Rasputin!?)

Sokurov's work here is impressive and says something interesting about how nice it might be to go back in history to simpler times. Witnessing the splendor of the aristocratic balls, the impressive artwork, and the cultured music, you almost forget that, following the czar-era setting of Russian Ark, Mother Russia experienced a violent and bloody revolution, a siege from the Germans, and an eventual plunge into economic collapse after the fall of communism.

Be careful what you wish for.



Russian Ark

Facts and Figures

Run time: 99 mins

In Theaters: Saturday 19th April 2003

Box Office USA: $37.4k

Distributed by: Wellspring Media

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 89%
Fresh: 88 Rotten: 11

IMDB: 7.3 / 10

Cast & Crew

Producer: , , Karsten Stöter

Starring: Sergei Dreiden as The Marquis, as Catherine The Great, as Spy, as Peter the Great

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