Once in a while, something comes along
that catches your eye and imagination and won’t let go. For me,
Aleksandr Sokurov’s film is one such even. Okay, so you might
protest that it’s just a walk through just an art gallery. Ouch! But
what a walk! And what a gallery! The Hermitage in St Petersburg is
symbol and testament par excellence of Enlightenment Russia’s
striving for unity with and brilliance over Europe.
We see the great figures of Russia
dramatised before us. Peter the Great and Catherine the Great—she
has to run off ‘to piss’. The central problem of Russian history has
been how closely to embrace Europe to the West: totally or
minimally. This film brings that out with great aplomb.
The technical achievement of the film
should also not go unmentioned. The goal was to shoot one continuous
take. That means not stopping the camera and therefore not editing.
This unstoppable flow and motion creates a visual and dramatic
vortex that cascades and cascades. The lushness of the surrounding,
plus the costumes are a thrilling experience. The cinematographer
becomes a character whose POV we cannot escape… he is guided along
by French diplomat in period costume: The Stranger (Sergei Dontsov).
The two converse about history and its problems, all the time benign
to those around them.
The extras are bombastic. There is a
full-length audio commentary from the film’s producer Jens Meurer,
plus a full-length commentary from theorist Dr Baraba Creed (an
Aussie!), plus a ‘making of’ doco and also an illustrated lecture.
All in all, one disc can provide you with hours of intrigue. This is
a fascinating project. To have seen the film in the cinema was
stunning. However, the extras included on this disc enhance its
I am a huge, huge fan of this film and would
recommend it to virtually anyone with an interest in Russia and or
filmmaking. Do not let this one get away from you!
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