Starring: Sergei Dreiden
Director: Alexander Sokurov
If there were such a thing as Film Police you would be arrested for watching Russian Ark on DVD. This lavish, landmark, one-take wonder should really be seen on the big screen in order to soak up its incredible scope but now that it is available in such a handy digital format you can watch it over and over again to catch the details that might have been overlooked on that initial viewing when your eyes were momentarily diverted from the screen by the subtitles.
I have to declare my hand right now and admit that I watched it on my laptop beside an open fire in the bush under the stars. Slap on the handcuffs if you must but it was like a dream; even the cicadas ceased their relentless summer chorus to focus in on this tour de force of St. Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum and Winter Palace brought to life by a cast of thousands. Catherine and Peter the Great were there, swanning around their sumptuous home amongst nymphs and scoundrels, as was Nicholas II, the last Russian Tsar and host of the Great Royal Ball of 1913, a spectacular event recreated here in all its mind- boggling splendour.
Our eccentric guide is the enigmatic Stranger (Sergei Dreiden) who appears in his black frock coat and Cuban heeled boots early on in the piece to escort us over the one-and-a-half hour journey. He is the ghost-like figure of a French Ambassador, invisible to most although not to a blind, art-loving angel who tells him about the El Grecos, Van Dycks and Rubens hanging on the gallery walls. With her heightened sensitivity we can almost smell the oil paint too.
Director of Photography Tilman Butner, who also shot the hit German film Run Lola Run, uses a 250lb prototype HD Steadicam to commit to celluloid a remarkable feat under the seamless direction of Alexander Sokurov. In fact, the camera represents another, unseen character befuddled by his fluency in Russian and the strange sights he sees before him. This is a unique time capsule that, if you go with the flow, will take you on a cruise over three hundred fabulous years and leave you adrift on a sea of delightful memories.