Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Russian Ark *

Russian Ark is an unusual tour through Russian history since the late 1800s. It's not what I expected from the reviews. In fact, unless you actually know Russian history, you're likely to be a bit lost -- well, certainly that was my experience. The film follows an unseen visitor who is plopped into a series of historical scenes. Scenes which I'm sure Russians will recognize, just as I would recognize famous American historical scenes, but which were fairly meaningless to me, a non-Russian. The unseen 'dream' visitor meets another 'dream' visitor who is/was a diplomat in some European country (that's him in the picture). The saucy interactions between these two provides the only humor. The European is constantly making comments about how the Russians are copying the Europeans and that the only culture comes from the Europeans. Example is an interaction during a symphony: "Oh, what wonderful music. The musicians must be Italians, only Italians can play like that." "No, they're Russians." "Ha, very funny, no they must be Italians or perhaps Germans. Ah, German culture..." "They are Russians." Etc, etc, you get the idea. That this is must be funny to a Russian audience is interesting to me -- a kind of self-deprecating humor.

One of the interesting things about this is that it is filmed as one 89 min shot, seriously one continuous shot. The visitors walk through halls and corridors and thereby enter different historical scenes. That in and of itself is why I wanted to see this. I've been watching Miklas Jancso's films where he uses long shots also. This is very different than what ones sees in your typical film, where a take might be seconds in length.

If you are interested in Russian history, European art (many scenes are in one of the main Russian museums), and Russian architecture, you would probably find this interesting. Just don't go in expecting a 'plot' or to learn anything about Russian history.