Russian Ark

(Russki kovcheg)
Russia/Germany 2002. Director: Alexander Sokurov
Cast: Sergey Dreiden, Maria Kuznetsova, Leonid Mozgovoy, Mikhail Piotrovsky

A manifest miracle of the cinema, Russian master Alexander Sokurov’s astonishing film offers dreamy passage on the ark of Russian history, in the form of a single, spellbinding, time-travelling tracking shot — at 96 minutes, the longest uninterrupted Steadicam shot in cinema history — through St. Petersburg’s famed Hermitage museum. The fantastic voyage begins with the film’s unseen narrator/filmmaker (Sokurov) finding himself magically, inexplicably transported to the museum, where he meets another mystified arrival, the mercurial Marquis de Custine (Sergey Dreiden), a 19th-century French diplomat. Together, the two new companions set out to wander through dozens of grand rooms, miles of corridors, and hundreds of years of history. Along the way, they encounter a pageant of figures past and present, including the Catherine the Great, Nicholas and Alexandra, and Mikhail Piotrovsky, the Hermitage’s current director. Throughout, they muse on art, Russian culture, and Russia’s place in Europe. Sokurov describes Russian Ark as a film shot “in a single breath.” The technical virtuosity on display in his movable feast-for-the-senses, and his single-shot choreography of a pan-historical cast of thousands — including the dazzling finale in an opulent ballroom — are singularly breathtaking. Colour, 35mm, in Russian with English subtitles. 99 mins.

REVIEWS

"The film is a glorious experience to witness, not least because, knowing the technique and understanding how much depends on every moment, we almost hold our breath."

Chicago Sun-Times | full review

"An astonishing technological feat, but what is even more remarkable is that the technology does not overwhelm the artistry."

Los Angeles Times | full review

"Dramatically, this is something of a waking dream."

Washington Post | full review