Sunday, February 20, 2011

Russian Ark

 This is a film from Russia and only one of two I have ever seen. The other was a fine film called The Italian. Russian films are so rare in New Zealand cinemas and to have only seen two in all my cinema going years is somewhat diasppointing. But what anyone who takes the time to read this must take into account is New Zealand is a small country of only four million people. It has a very small cinema going patron base compared to the amount of films that are made world wide each year. We only get to see a fraction of them.
 I am a big fan of foreign language films and have stated so in some of my earlier posts. I suppose with Hollywood being the biggest kid on the block it is natural that its films flood our cinemas. Luckily I have the Century Cinema here in Napier that caters for people like me. It has only one screen and again can only cope with a certain amount of films per year. 
 I envy some of the other blogs I have visited for the array of films they have had access to. Some really obscure stuff is out there and I just can't get my hands on any of it. I think a country like America say, is quite lucky in that it has a population base that can have cinemas that soley play the classics of bygone eras. Great stuff! I could live in a cinema like that!!
 But to Russian Ark!! Sorry for the rambling but hopefully someone may find it interesting and understand why I review a film such as this. I saw this film way back in 2004. I still have the ticket stub and it is the first stub I kept after deciding I would keep every one from every film I saw from that point on. You can imagine how many I have, hundreds! I now sorely wish I had one for every movie I have seen from childhood, as it would be an impressive number. 
 This film had a one only screening and it surprised me in that the theatre was almost full. The Century holds 330 people so this was quite impressive. What got me is this was a film with no promotion in New Zealand what so ever. So how it drew that sort of crowd is beyond me. I've seen films promoted heavily that people have stayed away from. I suppose that is the vagaries of the industry.
 It is an amazing film is scope, detail and ambition. I have read that it was shot in one complete take, but I find that hard to believe. It is just too big and busy with a cast of 2,000, so I'm sure that with that amount of people something was bound to go wrong at some stage. It takes place in the St. Petersburg museum, it starts at a side door into a kitchen and then finally exists down its main staircase. We follow a man who is also narrating, and the films main purpose is take the viewer through a quick tour of the museum. 
 But it does it in a very unique fashion. Instead of making a walk along documentary the makers have used a series of historical flash backs in each room the camera enters (33 in all). Certain periods of St. Petersburg's, and the then Leningrads, history are played out. In one scene a wall of the museum has been hit by German artillery fire and there is snow coming in and a Leningrader making a coffin. Of course this is reference to the 900 day siege of Leningrad during the Second World War.
 It is historical scenes like this set against the museum's backdrop that make it so remarkable and clever in execution. The cinematography is beautifully done and when the camera enters each room it is hard not to be stunned . The museum is an amazing building, and the film work captures it magnificently. It is one of those films that HAS to be seen on the big screen to be believed. It is just dazzling, and the small screen will just not portray the awe that the big screen would.
 It is perfect in every way and every detail. As the camera moves from one room to another there is no cut in the film. The camera moves seemlessly from room to room giving the viewer the impression they are actually there walking the museum and not watching it on film. It is an amazing cinematic experience. The museum is beautiful in every room and on the big screen it overwhlems you and you are left breathless by the end (which it does with a big historical ball and the guests leaving by the main staircase).
 Our narrater, who walks us throught he museum, is based on a Frenchman who visited Russia in the 19th century and wrote a widely read book on his travels. The multi layering of this film is incredible and I can't express enough the skill in turning what could have been a drab, dry , documentary style film into a visually sumptuous and technically rewarding piece of filmmaking. It is cleverly and skillfully made and a film whose physical beauty you will never forget.
 Try and see this film. The small screen will do it no justice but you will still get a feel of the museum's majesty and the film making that brought it too life in such a masterful way. Superb viewing.
 Click here for a brief synopsis and a few facts;
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