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24 September 2014
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Russian Ark Review: Bren O'Callaghan
Russian Ark
Russian Ark
There has been an accident. Shouting, screams… then nothing.
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A filmmaker regains consciousness to find himself behind the lens of a camera outside the Hermitage in St Petersburg: a vast, cavernous museum of almost obscene opulence. A former palace having stood for centuries, the underwater ambience ensnares the whispers and intangible witness of the entire span of Russian history.

He has stumbled in time to arrive on the eve of the last Great Royal Ball of 1913, and as the guests arrive the doors swing open and they - and we - slip inside.

For the next 95 minutes the audience bear testimony to a cinematic first. An entire film encapsulated within a single, uncut steadicam shot, the first of its kind. Sweeping between antechambers and salons, corridors and ballrooms, taking in moments of both blunt intimacy and ostentatious ceremony.

Granted access to the Hermitage for a single day, director and unseen narrator Sokurov undertook months of rehearsals; manipulating 867 actors, hundreds more extras, 22 assistant directors and the development of a prototype digital video hard drive capable of recording up to 100 minutes of uncompressed footage. Incredibly, he achieved a full run-through on only the third attempt, and the result is astonishing.

Dazed, Sokurov is soon joined by another interloper. A cynical French diplomat from the 19th Century (Dreiden), the pair make uneasy companions. Only occasionally are other characters aware of their presence, and when they are, they too transpire to be travellers in time. A blind angel waxes lyrical on paintings that she cannot see; two old men sat among 21st Century tourists appear to be past their dead-by-date; and assorted watchmen, seers and mediums point the way ever onward.


Trapped within a bubble, borne aloft upon the sighs of sleeping ghosts, had this been edited in the traditional manner the result would have been intriguing but ultimately without resonance.

Russian Ark will sail into cinematic history. All aboard for the debut voyage.




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