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70 of 73 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars St Petersburg as an Ark of Russian Culture
Aleksandr Sokurov has created a unique, wondrous masterpiece of a film in his great homage of Russian history and art and the Hermitage Museum. Four years in the planning, a cast of thousands, exquisite reproductions of costumes that span the three hundred years of Russian history, and brilliant cinematography by the German Tilman Buttner, Sokurov has condensed the...
Published on 16 Sept. 2003 by Grady Harp

versus
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Excellent work
Excellent film lots oh hard work gone in to it.
More like documentary than a feature film.
It is a must.
Published 13 months ago by A.zanganeh


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70 of 73 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars St Petersburg as an Ark of Russian Culture, 16 Sept. 2003
By 
Grady Harp (Los Angeles, CA United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Russian Ark [2003] [DVD] (DVD)
Aleksandr Sokurov has created a unique, wondrous masterpiece of a film in his great homage of Russian history and art and the Hermitage Museum. Four years in the planning, a cast of thousands, exquisite reproductions of costumes that span the three hundred years of Russian history, and brilliant cinematography by the German Tilman Buttner, Sokurov has condensed the essence of Russian culture in a 90 minute non-stop 'live' filming within the halls of the Hermitage museum (all 5 palaces known as the winter palaces of the Tsars). The result is an enchanting, bewitching, meandering tour of Russian from the time of Catherine the Great, Peter the Great, Pushkin, the Romanovs - Nicholas I and II - to the final ball in the palace the night Tsarist Russia ended. Our tour guide is the off camera voice of Sokurov in conversation with a French Marquis and assorted ghosts of the past as we seamlessly view glimpses of Russia's past, scenes like an actual play that Catherine the Great wrote and watched, the writer Pushkin, the Romanov family at their last supper in the palace and the grand ball that culminates this stage of the glory of Russia. The ballroom scene is resplendent with vast numbers of costumed actors dancing a mazurka to the music (Glinka's mazurka from his opera 'The Life of the Tsar') provided by the Maryinski Orchestra conducted by no less than Valery Gergiev! As the guests finally leave the Hermitage museum the camera focuses on an open window overlooking the sea on which the city of St Peterburg floats. We then know that we have been on an ark of Russian culture for the past 90 minutes - an immeasureably beautiful and sensitive document that has captured all the mystery of Russia's history, presented with tenderness and finesse and with the extraordinary facility using the newest of digital camera technology. This is a magnificent epic film and deserves a wide audience on its own. The additional information provided by a 30 minute "How the film was made" on the DVD is equally informative and graceful. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A unique, great film, 15 Aug. 2007
By 
C. O. DeRiemer (San Antonio, Texas, USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Russian Ark [2003] [DVD] (DVD)
A 90-minute movie centered on St. Petersburg's Hermitage Museum, filmed in one unbroken take by a digital steadicam, didn't send a lot of Americans racing to buy tickets when it was shown here two or three years ago. The movie, however, is far more than just a technical stunt. It's a unique tour de force with emotional impact.
Russian Ark portrays the Hermitage as a kind of cultural and historical ark floating on centuries of Russian seas. The narrative device is a shadowy eighteenth century Frenchman who wanders the halls and time periods, commenting often with good-natured European condescension on what he sees. He is accompanied by a Russian who is never seen, and who questions him about his comments. The movie ranges through time with appearances of Peter the Great, Catherine II, Puskin, Nicholas II and his family, generals, maids, flunkies and diplomats. The Frenchman, played with great style by Russian actor Sergei Dreiden, takes us to painting and sculpture galleries, kitchens, ballrooms, storerooms, basements and living quarters as we observe things that happened in the Hermitage over the centuries.

At first, I was very aware of the technical feat of no cuts. Gradually, though, I think most people just relax and accept the skill of the director and photographer, and become immersed in what they are seeing. A kind of unreal imagery takes hold. The movie ends with the last dance held in the Great Ballroom before WWI. Hundreds of actors and dancers, in full costume, swirl around this ornate setting, and swirl around the camera as well, while the camera glides through the crowds. It's a terrific scene, and is followed by the end of the dance with all the hundreds of guests making their way through the halls and staircases to leave the building, with the camera facing them and moving along in front of them.

The DVD has several extras, but in my view the best is Film in One Breath. It is the documentary of the making of the movie. Enormous planning went into Russian Ark, and the actual filming required split second coordination with the actors, the lighting and the camerman. Any mistake, and they had to start over. There were two mistakes; they were successful on the third try. Tillman Buttner, the movie's director of photography who wore the steadicam, has excellent stories to tell.

This is a highly unusual film, probably a great one.

The DVD transfer is first rate.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Russkij Kovcheg (Russian Ark), 9 Jun. 2005
By 
John Corbett - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Russian Ark [2003] [DVD] (DVD)
This Alexander Sokurov feature is one of the most staggering technical achievements in the history of cinema - a single shot lasting 95 minutes while moving through 33 rooms in the world's largest museum, the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg (which also encompasses the Winter Palace). Part pageant and museum tour, part theme-park ride and historical meditation, it covers two centuries of czarist Russia as smoothly as it crosses the Hermitage and even periodically moves outside of it, with the offscreen Sorukov engaged in an ongoing dialogue with an on-screen 19th-century French diplomat (apparently suggested by Adolphe, marquis de Custine).
Sokurov used close to 2,000 actors and extra and three live orchestras in making what may be the world's only unedited single-take feature as well as the longest Steadicam sequence ever shot. (Reportedly only one previous take of the sequence was even attempted, after lengthy and detailed rehearsals of all the participants, and it apparently failed due to the subdegree temperature outside.) Russian Ark is also the first uncompressed high-definition film recorded on a portable hard-disk system rather than on film or tape before being transferred to 35mm, and, along with Sokurov's earlier innovative experiments with optical distortions and perspective in features such as Whispering Pages (1993) and Mother and Son (1997), it marks him as a kind of 19th-century modernist - a filmmaker who, like Manoel De Oliveira in a very different way, combines an acute sense of the past with a very up-to-date sense of how to convey it.
As one critic has suggested, Russian Ark is an anti-October, challenging Sergei Eisenstein's reliance on montage while using the Winter Palace as a gigantic set. All of which is to say that we are only just starting to grasp the dimensions of this formidable achievement, although it is worth adding that the surprising and virtually unprecedented commercial success of this film in the United States strongly indicates that Sokurov's technical mastery is not merely an achievement to be enjoyed by specialists of cinema or Russian history.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "A magnificent homage to humanity, art, culture and history...", 31 May 2012
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This review is from: Russian Ark [2003] [DVD] (DVD)
Russian screenwriter and director Alexandr Sokurov`s eleventh feature film which he co-wrote with Anatoly Nikiforov, Russian screenwriter and director Svetlana Proskurina and Boris Khaimisky, is a Russia-Germany co-production which was shot entirely in the State Hermitage Museum in the federal city of St. Petersburg in Northwestern Russia. It premiered In competition at the 55th Cannes International Film Festival in 2002 and was produced by Russian producer Andrey Deryabin, German screenwriter, producer and director Jens Meurer and producer Karsten Stöter. It tells the story about a French aristocrat named Marquis de Custine and called the European who walks through an 18th century Winter Palace, formerly inhabited by Russian czars, in Saint Petersburg during the 19th century. While examining a world of historic art and culture and encountering various people from different periods in time, the European engages in a communication with an unnamed man who accompanies him through the giant museum.

Distinctly and engagingly directed by Russian filmmaker Alexandr Sokurov who created the visual concept and principal image design for the film, this quietly paced and astonishing historic drama which alternates between the point of view of the narrator (Alexandr Sokurov) and his companion, draws a remarkable portrayal of an ongoing conversation between a French writer and a Russian while they are moving from one salon to another and one period to another. While notable for its somewhat surreal and colorful milieu depictions, stellar costume design by costume designers Tamara Seferyan, Maria Grishanova and Lidiya Kryukova, cinematography by German cinematographer Tilman Büttner and art direction by Russian production designer and art director Yelena Zhukova and production designer and costume designer Natalia Kochergina, this dialog-driven story has a fine score by Russian composer Sergey Yevtushenko.

This visually exquisite, profoundly atmospheric and fairytale-like tour through history and time in one of the oldest and largest museums of the world, was shot in one single continuous take, contains a cast of 867 actors, some scenes of sheer cinematic magic and is impelled by Russian actor Sergei Dreyden`s vivacious acting performance. A meritorious achievement from a visionary filmmaker and a magnificent homage to humanity, art, culture and history which gained, among other awards, the Visions Award Alexandr Sokurov at the 27th Toronto International Film Festival in 2002 and the Nika Award for Best Production designer Yelena Zhukova and Natalia Kochergina at the Nika Awards in 2004.
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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Russkij Kovcheg (Russian Ark), 14 May 2005
By A Customer
This review is from: Russian Ark [2003] [DVD] (DVD)
This Alexander Sokurov feature is one of the most staggering technical achievements in the history of cinema - a single shot lasting 95 minutes while moving through 33 rooms in the world's largest museum, the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg (which also encompasses the Winter Palace). Part pageant and museum tour, part theme-park ride and historical meditation, it covers two centuries of czarist Russia as smoothly as it crosses the Hermitage and even periodically moves outside of it, with the offscreen Sorukov engaged in an ongoing dialogue with an on-screen 19th-century French diplomat (apparently suggested by Adolphe, marquis de Custine).
Sokurov used close to 2,000 actors and extra and three live orchestras in making what may be the world's only unedited single-take feature as well as the longest Steadicam sequence ever shot. (Reportedly only one previous take of the sequence was even attempted, after lengthy and detailed rehearsals of all the participants, and it apparently failed due to the subdegree temperature outside.) Russian Ark is also the first uncompressed high-definition film recorded on a portable hard-disk system rather than on film or tape before being transferred to 35mm, and, along with Sokurov's earlier innovative experiments with optical distortions and perspective in features such as Whispering Pages (1993) and Mother and Son (1997), it marks him as a kind of 19th-century modernist - a filmmaker who, like Manoel De Oliveira in a very different way, combines an acute sense of the past with a very up-to-date sense of how to convey it.
As one critic has suggested, Russian Ark is an anti-October, challenging Sergei Eisenstein's reliance on montage while using the Winter Palace as a gigantic set. All of which is to say that we are only just starting to grasp the dimensions of this formidable achievement, although it is worth adding that the surprising and virtually unprecedented commercial success of this film in the United States strongly indicates that Sokurov's technical mastery is not merely an achievement to be enjoyed by specialists of cinema or Russian history.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Spiritually Uplifting & Life Affirming Experience., 22 Feb. 2011
This review is from: Russian Ark [2003] [DVD] (DVD)
This is probably the most beautiful art film ever made. It holds the distinction of being the first and only cinematic event to date, to be filmed in one single 96 minute take. As a consequence, there is no editing. The cast of 2000 supporting actors had to perform on cue, as the camera and director moved through the many rooms and buildings that comprise the St Petersburg's Hermitage. Once filming began the project had to unfold exactly to plan. The result is stunning on many levels. The grasp of the moment is so perfect, that one is left with a sense of utter eternity that renders the need for all other explanation superfluous. To be present, and to be a witness - is enough. The film was made on the 23rd of December 2001 and released in the cinema in 2002. This DVD version was released in 2003.

The film travels throughout the Winter Palace, which is the main building of the Russian State Hermitage Museum. This musuem is made-up of six buildings:

1) The Winter Palace.
2) The Small Hermitage.
3) The Old Hermitage.
4) The New Hermitage.
5) The Hermitage Theatre.
6) The Reserve House.

The film covers 300 years of Russian art and artistic culture. Each room the camera enters, plunges the unsuspecting audience into a different Russian year, dynasty and existential environment. The Director - Alexander Sokurov - narrates the entire film through a disembodied voice. Infact, the events of the film are viewed only through the eyes of this unnamed character. He is Russian of course, but there is an implication that he may have died in an accident. The other main character throughout is a Frenchman (played by the actor Sergei Dreiden), usually referred to as 'the European', whose character is called the Marquis de Custine. These two characters encounter one another at the beginning of the film, and the dialogue involve the European criticising Russian art as being a mere copy of European art, whilst the Russian voice continuously disagrees with this analysis, instead always advocating the uniqueness of the Russian interpretation of nature, and perhaps gently suggesting that the Russian people are as much European, as they are anyother identity. With the perfect acting, costuming and historical recreation, the result is compelling and the narrative convincing. In the end, the Marquis is won-over by the sheer wight of delight that high Russian culture has presented him with - so much so infact, that he decides to stay in the room that displays an 18th century Ballroom dance scene and full orchestra. The two main characters are never really explained - nor should they be. The caste is magnificent and their acting perfect. The film took 96 minutes to shoot, but 4 years to plan and rehearse. In many ways, it can be viewed as a theatre performance on a scale never attempted before. Of course, there is no stage, but simply room after room of actors and actresses waiting for the door to open, and their performance to begin.

The 2003 DVD edition contains the unabridged film, lasting 96 minutes. The Special Features consist of the following:

a) Theatrical Trailer.
b) Documentary - a 43 minute 'behind the scenes' that is as compelling as the film itself.
c) Hubert Robert (1733-1808) - A Fortunate Life. Many of the paintings in the Hermitage were painted by this French artist.
d) Biographies.
e) Production Notes.
f) Weblinks.

The Russian name for this film is 'Russkij Kovcheg' - indeed 'Russian Ark' in English. The reason for this is made clear at the very end of the film. The Hermitage itself appears to be floating in a body of water - perhaps the sea - and is performing the function of an ark that is carry, and therefore preserving Russian history, culture and art. It is an immense vision, that at the sametime has the simplicity of an Haiku. The imperial scenes of a Persian Diplomatic Mission apologising to the Tsar, the popmp and ceremony, the handsome, tall and straight Russian soldiers, are reminiscent of similar scenes often found in Chinese films, such as 'Hero'. This is a truly beautiful experience on every level of awareness.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An invitation to the Winter Palace, 20 Jan. 2004
By 
Mr. Joe (Glendale, CA USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Russian Ark [2003] [DVD] (DVD)
The most remarkable thing about RUSSIAN ARK is that it was filmed with a Steadicam in one unbroken take ninety-plus minutes long utilizing a couple thousand precisely cued and magnificently costumed actors. This was necessitated by the fact that the location, the Hermitage Museum (the former Winter Palace) in St. Petersburg, Russia, was available for only one day. But where did they rehearse? And most important, did Hermitage staff allow the actors to bring munchies inside?
As the film opens, an invisible individual (let's call him "The Visitor"), through whose eyes the viewer takes this journey and whose voice is that of Director Alexander Sokurov, is admitted to the snowbound Winter Palace with a group of uniformed czarist army officers and their dates arriving for a gala event. The Visitor soon leaves the revelers behind and joins "The Marquis" (Sergey Dreiden), a Frenchman that serves as the guide for most of the movie. As The Visitor and The Marquis go from room to room, they and the viewer are either in the present, surrounded by modernly dressed tourists, or in some century past, fleetingly meeting such historical figures as Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, and Nicholas II. Ghosts, perhaps?
RUSSIAN ARK is primarily a magnificent visual introduction to the Winter Palace of the czars, and one most likely to be useful to one who hasn't experienced the place firsthand. This fact, and the cinematic achievement represented by the skillfully choreographed action photographed in the single take, would otherwise cause me to award 5 stars - except for the dialogue (Russian with English subtitles). The majority of the words spoken by The Visitor, The Marquis, and those they encounter convey little of import or relevance. Indeed, what emanates from the preoccupied Marquis isn't usually much better than distracted mumbles.
For those acquainted with Russian history, one of the most poignant scenes is when The Visitor and The Marquis encounter Nicholas II's young daughters - to be brutally murdered by the Reds within a couple of years - breezily skipping along the palace corridors. And the climax of the film is the last thirty minutes or so as the viewer mingles among the elegant, pre-Revolution crowd dancing in a glittering ballroom, and then exits with the throng down a spectacular gold and white grand staircase and out through a long interior promenade.
Needless to say, RUSSIAN ARK has no plot in the conventional sense. Had the various scenes been shot separately, they'd be nothing more than a series of unrelated vignettes of marginal interest.
RUSSIAN ARK is a film only possible after the implosion of the USSR. It's a peek at a grandiose and "decadent" way of life now gone from Russia - and Europe - for many decades. If you can't make it to Peter's city on the Baltic, then I recommend this film.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant and beautiful, 20 April 2008
By 
Ian Shine (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Russian Ark [2003] [DVD] (DVD)
There's been enough said about how this film is shot in one take, and Sokurov justifies this by saying that the film is like one breath, taking in 300 years of Russian history, which it very much is. I was gripped throughout - the technique, with the drifting dream-like steady-cam absorbs you. You find yourself unconscious of the fact that you are actually watching a film.
While this may appeal to any foreign-film fan, it's more likely to find favour with people who have an interest in Russian cinema, history and literature, and personally, I can't imagine watching this film without having been to Russia and to The Hermitage (where the film is set) in particular. I just don't think I would have felt the emotional tug of the film (which is quite a strong part of it, alongside the historical element) as much. To go to Saint Petersburg is to realise that Russia is an immensely cultured country, which is what Sokurov is getting at with the European guide in this film. People see Russia as un-European and somewhat barbaric, while they ignorantly assume the French to be the most cultured nation in the world. Sokurov goes some way to refuting that with this work.
The extras on the dvd are perfect. There is a short film by Sokurov about the guide in Russian Ark - his past, who he was, why he is chosen to take us round The Hermitage. There is also a documentary about the making of the film, which shows not only how monumental the task of shooting and coming up with the idea for the film was, but gives some historical information and shows us some of the hidden historical figures who pass us by in the film.
There is no other film that this can possibly be compared to. Everyone interested in avant-garde cinema or in Russia (and its relationship with Europe) should watch this immediately.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A living portrait of indoors Russian history, 15 July 2011
By 
Philoctetes (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Russian Ark [2003] [DVD] (DVD)
Surely a unique film and like another reviewer I got a certain frisson from seeing Gergiev at the helm of th Mariinsky orchestra in the ballroom scene. A one-take film that floats through the Hermitage as scenes of Russian history play out before the eyes of a French count from the Nineteenth century (I think) and his Russian interlocutor, paintings are perused and occasionally the uninvited time-travellers are shooed away by flunkeys and lackeys.

It is rather brilliant but also rather bizarre and eventually the constantly being indoors becomes stifling. A good advert for the museum though.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Tour de Force from all angles!, 6 April 2010
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This review is from: Russian Ark [2003] [DVD] (DVD)
Great concept, great acting, direction and concept; superb.
How to be a Steady Cam operator, hold and develop your shot
over 90 minutes!! without a hickup!! without worrying about the
cast of over 2000 actors & musicians!!
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Russian Ark [2003] [DVD]
Russian Ark [2003] [DVD] by Alexandr Sokurov (DVD - 2003)
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