Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Russian Ark- Jimmy's Perspective.

In my jaded old age of 22 years, my mind is rarely left blown by the spectacle that many films offer. I'm more drawn to plot and technique than I am to action packed, blood filled frames. That being said, Russian Ark, in all its wondrous glory is the most fantastic cinematic spectacle I've seen. Maybe my amazement comes from the fact I've worked on sets and seen how radically different normal films are made, but I think that anyone who has an ounce of taste will realize the incredible nature of Russian Ark. The spectacle arises from this: Russian Ark is a single 93-minute single take, spanning the entire Winter Palace and Hermitage art museum in Moscow. Within these marvelous 93 minutes there are over 4,000 extras, two orchestras, and an opera. Ho. Ly. Shit.

In terms of plot, things can get a little confusing. From what I can tell (being as my Russian is a little rusty) the viewer is seeing the world through the eyes of a specter or spirit of a man who has died and can essentially “come unstuck in time.” He doesn't seem to know where he is or when he is, nor does he have any control over what time period he happens to walk into. So this confused dead guy, who no one can seen, starts wandering around the Hermitage and Winter Palace where he runs into a traveler in a similar situation. We never learn the traveler's name, but the viewer can glean that he's European, used to be an ambassador, and hates all things Russian. After much exploration and time travel, though, the European decides to stay in the Winter Palace amidst the decadence of a royal ball. It's not mentioned in the film, but it must be noted that the ball the two dead guys attend is the last ball the Czar hosted before the Bolshevik revolution of 1918. Anyway, the whole thing, boiled down to its essence, is basically a biopic of the palace and museum. Every event that these two pass through is historically accurate and representative of many different eras in Russian history.

Given the odd temporal nature and strangeness of the plot, Russian Ark has an extremely dreamlike feel. The characters are unbound by logic, traipsing from time period to time period by simply strolling into another room. These shifts are accompanied by changes in focal length which are odd in themselves since audiences rarely get the chance to see them thanks to our dear friend, editing. What adds to the surreality of it all is the characters' ability to interact with their surroundings one instant and be invisible to everyone but themselves the other. They can pass through crowds without drawing any attention or dance with d├ębutantes in the limelight, but you can never tell which is going to happen.

I've yet to find a more stunning movie. I absolutely love this film. Yet, I realize that nothing is perfect and what I find incredible, many people may see as a boring gimmick. The main complaint I here about the film is the lack of a strong plot. We understand these people are lost and are trying to find their way to where ever it is they're going, but beyond that, there's not much. Personally, I think that this comes with the dream logic, but what's works for one may not for another. Another point is the very dramatic turn around of the "European" character. He begins completely opposed to anything Russian in origin, whether it be art, people, or music. But by the end, he's come full-turn, refusing to leave the palace when he has the chance to be anywhere in place and time. I think 93 minutes is a bit fast to make that shift but then again, I'm not a dead European.

If you get a chance to purchase Russian Ark, or view it at a festival of some sort, do it. Don't hesitate, just buy your ticket, sit back and be taken on a record-breaking, visually beautiful cinematic ride.

Final rating: A-

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