Monday, March 07, 2005

Russian Ark, A Film By Alexander Sokurov

Last night I saw Russian Ark, a most amazing film, which was shot in the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. It begins with darkness and voices, a technique that I have seen in many French films, and then the camera reveals gorgeously dressed partygoers descending from a coach into the snow in front of the museum. The women wear beautiful gowns with white furs and the men are in deep red uniforms of Russian officers. The camera follows them into the museum, through an entry way filled with more revelers, down a set of stairs, into what appears to be a stage set, and from there into galleries of the museum. At this point I realized that only a single camera was being used. The camera continues to follow several characters through the huge museum, showing off many masterpieces of painting and sculpture and the richly decoration of the galleries. Catherine the Great and numerous czars and their families and other people from Russian history appear. Finally, we arrive in the Great Hall, the largest room I’ve ever seen, to see a crowd at a ball. The camera shows the dancing and the orchestra and follows the crowd down the main staircase of the Winter Palace.

According to the DVD cover, Russian Ark is the only feature film ever made in a single take. It is one 96 minute uninterrupted camera shot. Can you imagine how the director moved several thousand people through the building and into the camera’s view without a break? I wonder how much was spent on costumes. I have never seen anything like Russian Ark. Every library with foreign films should have this DVD.

I want to go to St. Petersburg.

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