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Film Review: Russian Ark

A film shot in one single 93 minute take? Only in Russia...

In the Russian Ark an unnamed and unseen narrator (the film's director Alexander Sukorov) comes to consciousness in front of the Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg. It is the 1800's and people are entering for a ball. The narrator has no idea how he got to this time and place, he may in fact be dead. He meets another traveller through time (Sergei Donstov) and as they wander the corridors of the building they pass through various moments in the history or Russia.

Russian ArkThere is no linear plot per se to the film as it is more an examination of Russia and what it means to be Russian. This is such an unfeasibly broad subject however it is impossible to do it justice on screen. The opening segment is brilliantly realised and the closing ballroom scene is one of the most stirring sequences ever committed to film. In between these two high points however the film meanders uncertainly between the very touching (The Last Tzar and his family having breakfast, the other travellers ignorance of the fate of Russia during the 20th Century) to the deeply pretentious (an overlong modern day sequence) .

The Russian Ark has been described as a masterpiece in some quarters but this may have much to do with the fact that it was (brilliantly) shot in one single unbroken (93 minute) take ? an admittedly astonishing achievement. Like Citizen Kane this is probably a film that in years to come will be admired more for its technical virtuosity rather than an emotional impact that it may have on its audience.

Ciara Cloak

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