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DVD Reviews: Russian Ark

The Final Say!

Review Score
Reviewed by Yianni Pak
Review Date: May 2004
Distributed by:
AV Channel
Running Time: 96 Minutes





OK, this is something pretty different. Russian Ark is essentially a guided tour through the Hermitage Museum in St Petersberg. It is most certainly not going to appeal to everyone, although for what it is, it is a very impressive film, presented on a rather spiffy DVD. 

Probably the most utterly astounding thing about this film, at least from a technical viewpoint, is that was shot ENTIRELY in one take. That’s right, no cuts, no fades, no editing, nothing! From the opening scene right up until the end, the camera does not stop rolling. Considering the amount going on onscreen, and the regularity with which the main actor’s speech must coincide directly with the camera’s movements, this is very, very impressive. 

This is a movie for art lovers. It has to be said. Or at least, people with a passing interest in art. As I’ve already mentioned, it’s a “virtual guided tour” through a famous Russian museum. The dialogue is completely in Russian, with English subtitles, and it explores a little bit or Russian history as we traverse the corridors and rooms of the Hermitage. 

As fascinating (for some, anyway) and educating as Russian Ark is, I’m pretty sure that seeing the artwork displayed on your TV screen isn’t quite as awe-inspiring as visiting these paintings in the flesh (or – er – canvas). What it lacks in being able to truly take the viewer there, however, it makes up for in terms of educating us in the history of these pieces as the guide discusses each one, along with some of the history behind it.

In one of the commentaries it is mentioned that the biblical Noah’s Ark was a vessel of preservation, intended to protect two of each species of animal from the flood that was sent to wipe out the evils of humanity, and that Russian Ark is perhaps a similar effort to preserve these artifacts of Russian history against the passage of time, and perhaps the disinterest of a society increasingly more fascinated in television and McDonalds rather than art and culture.

Russian Ark is certainly not for everyone, but it is most definitely a fascinating, informative and educational look at the St Petersberg Hermitage Museum, and the history of Russia. If you love art, you will definitely want to investigate this one.


The video quality of this DVD is absolutely fantastic. The picture is crystal clear, and despite my comment earlier about a DVD not being comparable to actually seeing these pieces in person, this surely must be as close as you can get without being there. Colour is vibrant, and the picture is beautifully sharp. Top marks!


The film is probably not quite as dependant on high-quality audio as it is video, but the audio is still great. Everything is crisp and sharp, even when the “narrator” is whispering. Then again, the dialogue is in Russian so I wouldn’t really know if he was mumbling and it was impossible to make out what he’s saying. But the audio is great.


The extras included on this disc are great. It has two very intriguing commentary tracks, one by producer Jens Meurer, and another by film theorist Dr Barbara Creed. Both commentary tracks offer different, though equally fascinating, insights into the film. There is also a documentary entitled “In One Breath: The Making of Russian Ark”. Watching this really, truly, gives us an understanding of how difficult this film would have been to make. The Hermitage museum closed for a mere ONE day to allow shooting. And in that day it had to be completely re-dressed to appear as it did in the 18th century, and then returned to normal! Also included is a feature called “Museum of Memory, an Illustrated Lecture”, which is basically a lecture on art with images of paintings shown and discussed by an expert. Other than that it’s just the usual trailer and weblinks type stuff. Quite a good package.


Audio Commentary by producer Jens Meurer

Audio Commentary by film theorist Dr Barbara Creed

In One Breath: the making of Russian Ark

Museum of Memory illustrated lecture

Theatrical Trailer

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