login | register

Russian Ark


Year: 2002 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 
Certificate: BBFC U Cert – Universal 
Subtitles: The level of subtitling in this film is unknown to WSC 
Directed by Unknown 
Starring: Unknown  

Russia. Home of vodka, bears, snowy wastelands and Bond villains, right? Wrong, according to director Alexander Sokurov, the director of the haunting and utterly magnificent Russian Ark. Taking the awe-inspiring Hermitage Museum as his base (the Russian equivalent of the Louvre, but even more impressive) he interweaves over three hundred years of Russian history with alacrity and a staggering depth of vision that leaves the viewer breathless. And, in his exploration of the Russian zeitgeist, Sokurov uncovers a living, breathing past of heart-breaking decadence and destructive desires that may well change your clichéd ideas of Russia and its people.

Two accidental time travellers, the unseen narrator and the opinionated, garrulous Sergei Dreiden, find themselves wandering through the halls of the lavish Hermitage museum, being endlessly transported through time as they continue from room to room – from the great balls of the Romanov dynasty to the desperation of World War Two to the culturally aware moment of the present day. As they move through the building, they encounter various individuals, from Tsars to coffin makers to art students, each of whom becomes a vital piece in an unending Russian jigsaw. As the past thrusts ceaselessly into the present, the narrator, and through him the viewer, begins to comprehend the awesome presence, and power, of history.

One of the most important things (and there are many) about Russian Ark, is that it was filmed in one continuous take. No sneaky Hitchcock-like breaks – it’s all one shot, which is an incredible achievement considering the amount of work and rehearsal that must have gone into getting it exactly right. The camera snakes through the halls, moving on an almost ethereal plane, adding to the elegance of the scenery and people with a respectful, inquisitive and melancholy personality of its own. As a result, there is nothing in the film that is superfluous – from the meditations on art, religion and history to the images of splendid obligation and sumptuous partying.  Everything here matters, everything in this film has a bearing on the Russia that stands now in the 21st Century, and Russian Ark is a simply essential movie to see. Heart, brains and spectacle are a combination not often successfully realised on film. Russian Ark has them in spades…

Greg Taylor

More Information | Back to Previous Schedule | This Season  |  BBFC Classification Guidelines

Screenings of this film:

2003/2004 Autumn Term (35mm)