Russian Ark

Artykuł pochodzi z pisma "Guardian"

I have not much liked the two movies of the 50-year-old Russian Alexander Sokurov that I've seen - the sub-Beckettian Mother and Son and his romp in Berchtesgaden with Adolf and Eva, Moloch.
But his new film, Russian Ark, is a hypnotic work shot in a single, unbroken take lasting 90 minutes as the ghost of an early nineteenth-century French aristocrat walks around the Hermitage Museum and the tsars' old Winter Palace in St Petersburg. He sees, but is seen only occasionally by, a variety of people ranging from Peter the Great to present-day visitors to its art galleries.
Along the way he engages in a debate about Russian culture over the centuries with an off-stage figure, presumably the director himself. This foreign visitor, billed as 'the Stranger', has a striking resemblance to the Swedish actor Erland Josephson, who played the lead in Nostalgia and The Sacrifice, the last two films by Andrei Tarkovsky, an idol of Sokurov's. Sergey Dreiden may well have been cast in the role for this reason.
This is a virtuoso undertaking involving the German cinematographer Tilman Büttne carrying his Steadicam through room after room for 1,300 metres without stumbling, a cast of a thousand or more (most in costume) performing on cue, a couple of orchestras, numerous changes of lighting.
This breathtaking piece of cinema, infinitely more impressive than any Hollywood hi-tech action movie, has got into the Guinness Book of Records. It also has a place in the history of the technical and philosophical development of the cinema.
The cinema began in the 1890s with brief single-shot movies lasting less than a minute. Then the new language of film developed and in the 1920s in the Soviet Union the idea of editing as the essential basis of cinema received a theoretical blessing from Sergei Eisenstein under the name of 'montage'. The concept of montage was accepted by Soviet commissars because of its seeming correspondence with dialectical materialism. It appealed to the movie industry in the West because it allows producers, as well as filmmakers, to re-jig pictures in the editing room. It also makes the censor's job easier.
A counter theory was proposed after the Second World War by André Bazin, co-founder of Cahiers du Cinéma and godfather of the French New Wave. He believed that montage was too interventionist, too destructive of observed reality. He approved of the deep focus and continuous camera movement that he saw in the work of Orson Welles, William Wyler and Jean Renoir. For more than 50 years leading directors have gone in for elaborate long takes as a way of holding our attention as well as amusing themselves, among them Hitchcock (Rope, Under Capricorn), Angelopoulos (The Travelling Players), Welles (A Touch of Evil), Polanski (Cul-de-Sac), Jancsó (Agnus Dei), Antonioni (The Passenger) and Altman (The Player , where the lengthy opening take is accompanied by Hollywood filmmakers discussing the nature of the long take). These directors. however, were limited by the 10 minutes of film contained in a normal reel.
Sokurov's picture has been made possible by the invention of the Steadicam in the late Seventies, and, more recently, by the development of a high definition video camera with a hard disc that can record for 100 minutes.
The question arises as to whether Russian Ark is merely a bravura piece of filming that leaves us admiring the cameraman's stamina, the technicians' brilliance, the director's courage and the actors' discipline. The movie is never less than intelligent in its historical debate, is often amusing in a pawky way and is frequently beautiful (especially a scene in which the Russian court receives a petition from the Shah of Persia).
Only occasionally does it touch the heart, as in the sequence of Nicholas and Alexandra taking tea with their children where the clothes, the walls and the furnishings are all white. But none of this is in itself new. Sacha Guitry did something similar in 1954 with his three-hour movie, Si Versailles m'était conté... ('If Versailles could have told me...'), which featured virtually the whole French acting profession (plus Orson Welles as Benjamin Franklin) to tell the history of Versailles from the age of Louis XIV to the present and was shot in the palace itself. The climactic ball held at the Winter Palace in 1913, with its awareness of marking the end of an era, is inferior in mood, presentation and dramatic depth to the great ball sequence of Visconti's The Leopard.
What Russian Ark resembles is a historical pageant, a son et lumière show without three-dimensional characters, and rather narrowly focused. Despite the title, it doesn't contain all of Russia any more than a similar treatment of Hampton Court or Windsor Castle would. There's also a total absence of Russian art, as the Stranger himself points out. One supposes a Russian audience would be more involved and affected, especially those people who would like to see Tsar Nicholas II canonised.
Sokurov's chief purpose apparently was to involve the viewer in the continuity of history, in the experience of time itself. He sees the film as being 'shot in a single breath', a term that might be better applied to a line in a poem by Whitman or Ginsberg than to 90 minutes of film. But people must judge for themselves whether this technique leads beyond admiration and into a deeper involvement.


to bill - zapowiadać, anonsować, reklamować
blessing - błogosławieństwo
canonised - kanonizowany, uznany świętym
cast - to assign (as an actor) to a role or part - obsadzić w roli (stąd: casting!)
cue - znak, on cue - na znak
godfather - ojciec chrzestny
hypnotic - hipnotyczny, hipnotyzujący
idol - idol
inferior - niższy, gorszy
pageant - an elaborate colorful exhibition or spectacle often with music that consists of a series of tableaux, of a loosely unified drama, or of a procession usually with floats - różnorodne widowisko
pawky - artfully shrewd, canny, bystry, przenikliwy, sprytny, zręczny
presumably - przypuszczalnie, prawdopodobnie
reel - rolka filmu
re-jig - poprzekładać, pozamieniać
son et lumière - franc. Światło i dźwięk
stamina - wytrzymałość, siły życiowe, energia, witalność, wigor
striking - uderzający, robiący wrażenie, rzucający się w oczy, imponujący, frapujący
to stumble - potknąć się, zająknąć się
virtuoso undertaking - wirtuozerskie przedsięwzięcie


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