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Russkij Kovcheg (Russian Ark),
This review is from: Russian Ark  [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.