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Aleksandr Sokurov directs this German-language adaptation of the classic tale about a man who sells his soul to the Devil. The story, woven into the fabric of Western culture thanks to the influential theatrical adaptations by playwrights Christopher Marlowe and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, follows a scientist, Faust (Johannes Zeiler), in search of knowledge. However, while in Goethe's version Faust is in search of the secrets of the universe, Sokurov's scientist has far more base motives. Obsessed with the beautiful Margarete (Isolda Dychauk), Faust makes a deal with the Devil's representative on Earth, the Moneylender (Anton Adasinsky), to gain the secrets that will win Margarete's heart, but what price will the Moneylender extract in return?
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Desire for earthly knowledge over that of the divine was the central theme of the original story. Here in this fine film version (Russian made, German dialogue) Faust mainly desires sex, not earthly knowledge. He is smitten by a young nubile beauty, the daughter of a coarse peasant who treats her daughter (known as Margarete) as a prized piece of property. Beauty such as hers must not be squandered. It must be used to acquire further property. And so the daughter, always dressed in tight corsets and cumbersome hooped dresses, is watched and protected. But lurking on the perimeter of social affairs in the village is Faust, a middle-aged professor of science and philosophy. Magarete notices this, her curiosity for him aroused. Bashful, modest and inexperienced she may be, but her innocence does not blind her to the ways of the world. She understands what Faust represents and wants.
Their glances are furtive, their chances to speak slim, as Margarete is always chaperoned when walking outside. Much of what they communicate is done almost telepathically.
In the local graveyard during a somber funeral and burial they stand next to one another in a small crowd. All eyes are on the coffin as it is lowered into the ground. Faust gently moves his hand toward hers. They touch. She looks up at him, a chaste smile on her beautiful, pure face. He looks straight ahead, not daring to be seen looking into her cheerful eyes.
After this we know what must follow. Faust does too, but Margarete cannot be procured by orthodox means. There will be no courtship, no wedding bells for Faust, the penniless scholar, nor for his prized young beauty. So Faust consults Mephistopheles, the local moneylender, an emissary of Satan. Parchment, quill and candle are produced. Faust fitfully reads over the document and signs. Love can be satisfied, but he will have her for only one night. Those are the terms.
The film asks no questions and gives no answers. It invites you, as all great art does, to do both on your own.
I have a personal emotional stake in the story. I once loved a young Japanese woman more than 30 years my junior. It was pointless and mad but couldn't be helped: hopeless, impossible, ludicrous. But even now I would sell my soul for just one night with her.
I think I made a mistake by watching the film without first reading Goethe's Faust and Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus. My background of the Faust legend was not sufficient to truly appreciate the film in its entirety. I really recommend those who want to watch this film to read more about Faust. At least, you should have some background information on the topic from the Internet; Wikipedia for example. What I am going to do now is to read Goethe's Faust and watch another Faust film directed by the F.W. Murnau in 1926.
The silver lining of this film is that it introduced me to this legend and made me curious to read and learn more about it and that's why I do not feel bad after watching this somewhat challenging film.
Watching this film reminded me of other directors such as Andrei Tarkovsky (Stalker), and Wojciech Jerzy Has (The Hour-Glass Sanatorium). If you have already watched for any of these directors and liked their films, then you are very likely to love this one, too.
The directing, acting, the cinematography, the setting, the costumes were all great and evocative of the era in which this story took place.
Unfortunately, there were no extra features on the DVD. I wished there were some to make the experience of watching the film richer and more informative.
If you want to watch this film I suggest you do some research about the legend of Faust if you are not familiar with it, and bear with the swift subtitles if you do not understand German.
Umm, I will give it 4 stars : )
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