Possibly the most unusually made film of all time!

Russian Ark is a one of a kind film. Think about it–director Aleksandr Sokurov made this movie in one day and in one long continuous take!!! Apparently, he’d have access to the famed Hermitage museum for one day only, so for months he coordinated all the thousands of extras, costumers, cameramen and the rest of the crew.  He even mapped out the course that the roving camera would have to take to get it all just right!  I just couldn’t believe it as I sat and watched!!

The film begins with a haughty French nobleman from the 19th century finding that he’s been magically transported to the Hermitage palace in St. Petersburg, Russia. And, inexplicably, he finds himself able to understand and speak Russian!! At first, he sounds very dismissive of the palace and seems to think it’s nothing but a second-rate Russian copy of a fine European palace and art gallery. But soon he marvels as he gets to catch glimpses of the likes of Peter the Great and Catherine the Great–both who lived there in this palace before the 19th century and before it was converted into one of the world’s greatest art museums. Additionally, as the film progresses, the nobleman’s demeanor changes even more and he marvels at the history, artworks and style–culminating with an incredibly sumptuous grand ball—a recreation of the final one that occurred here in 1913—complete with thousands of extras all dressed in period costumes.

This film is a glimpse at Russian history and art. However, it is NOT linear–and bounces about from the distant to not so distant pass and vice-versa. As such, it’s a great but slightly confusing history lesson—and provided you can follow what is happening, it is magnificent. As an ex-world history teacher, I had no trouble–but some non-Russians might want to brush up on Russian history from the mid 17th century to the present before they watch!

In addition, the movie often bursts through the so-called fourth wall.  In other words, the narrator often acts and interacts with the historical characters around him but then he also addresses the audience—which is very unusual stylistically.  Overall, it is truly unique and breathtaking film. However, how the production was made makes the whole thing even more amazing.  Considering it’s all in one take, this meant if they made any mistakes they had to start all over from the beginning.  What you actually see is the third attempt to film it—the previous two had technical difficulties and needed to be restarted!  Now that’s dedication.  Additionally, because they needed one long continuous take, they could not use film—as it would need to be replaced several times during the take.  So, instead they used a portable hard drive (a very large one) and filmed the entire thing digitally.  A magnificent experimental film and one that is a joy to behold.

Martin’s Grade: A+

Article by Lead Entertainment Writer & Film Critic, Martin Hafer