5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
A unique, great film,
This review is from: Russian Ark  [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.