Release Date: December 13, 2002
Genre: Historical Epic/Travelogue
Audience: All ages
Rating: Not Rated
Runtime: 96 minutes
Director: Alexander Sokurov
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(CC, L) Solid Christian worldview setting the record straight on Russian culture and civilization, with several appeals to God, positive references to the Bible, lingering looks at famous religious paintings, and a question repeated, “How do you know the future if you don’t know the Scriptures?”; one light obscenity; and, nothing else objectionable.
In RUSSIAN ARK, two men take a time-traveling journey through Russian history and art at the Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg. RUSSIAN ARK is a beautifully filmed, extraordinary act of remembrance of Russia’s Christian culture, which defies the usual rules of filmmaking.
RUSSIAN ARK has been receiving rave reviews. An artist who has a video series on the famous Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg says that the movie helped her understand the Hermitage better than the documentary series. Even with all the praise, however, potential viewers should be aware before deciding to see RUSSIAN ARK that this is not a traditional movie, nor is it a documentary. It is a beautifully filmed act of remembrance which defies the usual movie genre and the usual rules of filmmaking.
The movie opens with a first-person statement, “I open my eyes and I see nothing,” followed by “I can’t remember what happened to me.” Without any introductions, this camera point of view narrator finds himself being swept up in an 18th Century group of revelers who are entering a palace. He quickly comes upon another outsider, a Frenchman dressed in black whom the narrator calls “the European.” Together they try to figure out where they are, and the European tries to figure out how it is that he’s suddenly speaking Russian.
Soon, they move beyond the revelers to a modern group looking at famous paintings. The European and the narrator focus on the Christian paintings by Van Dyke, Rubens and others. They ask one young man why he is looking at a Christian painting and whether he is a Catholic. He responds that he is not, but he’s looking at the paintings to know the future. The European responds, “How can you know the future if you don’t know the Scriptures?”
The investigation of where they are continues to take place. They literally span several generations of Russian history. At one point, they are with Empress Catherine II and another with Tsar Peter the Great, another with Tzar Nicholas and his children, and another with the last ball being held in the palace at St. Petersburg. It soon becomes clear that the famous museum is a Russian Ark, preserving Russian civilization during the flood of the Communist Revolution and its aftermath.
The dialogue and impressions during the movie often fix upon Christian virtues and historical facts that are clearly meant to rebuild the collective memory of the Russian people. This postmodern approach to restoring culture is extremely interesting. It works in spite of the fact that there’s no real drama, conflict or storyline.
The attention to the visual and audile elements of the movie is highly commendable. Reportedly, the whole movie was filmed in one long shot, an incredible feat which is even more incredible because there’s so many little stories being told within the movie.
There are extremely poignant moments, such as a blind woman extolling the Christian virtues of the Great Masters and a man in a forbidden gallery where all the paintings have been taken down and who is building his own coffin. He represents the years of the Communist Revolution.
To be quite candid, in its attempt to revive Russian civilization, the movie overlooks the fact that only a very few aristocrats lived in this opulent lifestyle. Russia’s problems under Peter the Great and Nicholas stem not only from the ruthless conquest of Communism but also from the fact that there was such a wide gap between the aristocrats and the serfs. Imperial Russia never developed a middle class needed to give stability to their society. Anyone would want to live in the Russia portrayed in this movie, but many people would want to avoid the peasant life described by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
Even so, RUSSIAN ARK is highly to be commended. It deserves the praise it’s receiving.
RUSSIAN ARK is a beautifully filmed act of remembrance that defies the usual rules of filmmaking. The movie opens with a first-person statement, “I open my eyes and I see nothing,” followed by, “I can’t remember what happened to me.” Without any introductions, this camera point of view narrator finds himself being swept up in an elaborate tableau of Russian history in the Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg. He meets a 19th Century diplomat from France. The two become accomplices in an extraordinary time-traveling journey. One moment they’re with Tsar Peter the Great or Tsar Nicholas, the next moment they’re contemplating beautiful religious paintings. It soon becomes clear the famous museum is a Russian Ark, preserving Russian civilization during the flood of the Communist Revolution and its aftermath.
The dialogue and impressions during RUSSIAN ARK often fix on Christian virtues and historical facts clearly meant to rebuild the collective memory of the Russian people. This postmodern approach to restoring culture is extremely interesting. It works in spite of the fact there’s no real drama, conflict, or storyline. RUSSIAN ARK deserves the praise it’s receiving.