With its immense art collection, St. Petersburg’s Hermitage is the ark of the Russian soul, a microcosm of Russian history. Characters from both past and present mix magically in this musical and visual feast of art, politics and mysticism. A sumptuous cinematic experience based on the ground-breaking concept of shooting a continuous, entirely uncut 90-minute steadicam shot.

5
An astonishing film. Five Stars.

Russian Ark has been re-released into Australian cinemas for a limited 2016 season. To mark the occasion, revisit The Movie Show's unanimous 5-star reviews of the film.

  • Video 1 (above): Watch Margaret and David's review from The Movie Show 
  • Video 2 (above): Watch an interview with director Aleksandr Sokurov

 

There are debates these days about how the new technology will affect cinema. In Russian Ark, director Aleksandr Sokurov boldly goes where no-one has ever ventured before by making a 90 minute film in a single take, recording from a video steady-camera onto a hard disk.... The result is incredible..... 

The film's author, whom we hear only as a voice behind the camera - Sokurov's voice actually - finds himself on an historical tour of the Hermitage, the palace in St. Petersberg that houses hundreds of years of Russian cultural history. But this is a museum tour like no other.

"It gave me goosebumps" - Margaret Pomeranz

The guide, who is the only person to see the author, is a capricious French Marquis, played wonderfully by Sergei Dreiden, and much of the film is a dialogue between the two as they become caught up in intimate moments they literally walk in on, in the course of the film. From Peter the Great to Nicholas II and the last great ball ever held at the Winter Palace in 1913 the camera glides and caresses its way into history. This is a most amazing achievement.

It's seductive, it's beautiful, it's amusing, it's a film suffused with a sense of loss, culminating in the guests departing the ball - people whom we know are doomed because of subsequent history.

Travelling nearly two kilometres for the 90 minutes of the film's duration, Tilman Buettner's handheld steadycam visits 33 virtual soundstages, which had to be lit for 360 degree shooting, embraces nearly 2000 actors and extras, records live performances of three orchestras, including the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra conducted by Valery Gergiev. All this while moving amongst priceless pieces of art.

This exercise would just be an affectation if Sokurov had not imbued his film with a whimsical meditation on Russia's place in European history. The film does have the occasional lull, but the effect of the whole is totally exhilarating and surprisingly moving.

Comments by David Stratton An amazing achievement, both technically and artistically. The first time you see the film you're overwhelmed by the sheer brilliance of the concept and the way it's achieved, and you can't wait to see it again to absorb the witty highlights of Russian history that unfold so beautifully during the course of this extraordinary trip around the Hermitage.

Watch an interview with director Aleksandr Sokurov and his team, about how they managed to pull off this amazing filmmaking feat: