Film Reviews


By • Nov 17th, 2013 •

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Peter Doyle, as noted above, was the Digital Colourist on this film, as he was on DARK SHADOWS, the HARRY POTTER films, Peter Jackson’s KING KONG, and THE MATRIX. I indicate this lone Western contributor so as to lay praise on his work. FAUST is a colorist’s dream…or nightmare. Whichever, it dominates everything, creating a claustrophobic world from which one might easily sell one’s soul to escape. And the fact that the film was shot in the old standard, nearly-square aspect ratio was a canny decision, adding even more to that feeling of being trapped.

Sokurov, a much faster-moving version of his countryman Tarkovsky, still manages to let his films go on forever, but with a far more anxious visual style and pace. I watched RUSSIAN ARK (on DVD from Kino Lorber) again to see if there were any similar stylistic traits between the two, and despite ARK’s phenomenal gimmick of containing ninety minutes in one take*, there were indeed similarities. The characters are always moving, and always babbling. The camera is always moving as well. As with FAUST, I was less taken with the director’s use of the actors than I was with his use of camera and art direction.

The sets, costumes, makeup and constantly moving camera, as well as the sound design, are brilliant achievements. Creative make-up effects are used sparingly, but when we see the ‘devil’ (Anton Adasinsky) disrobed in a hot bath with lots of women lolling around, his mutated body is so repulsive you feel like everyone in the vast tub with him has instantly been contaminated.

In this terrible, stultifying world, monochromatic and fetid, we are meant to be convinced that the protagonist (Johannes Zeiler) would agree to trade his soul for a night with a beautiful, virginal blonde creature with whom he is smitten. Unfortunately, it’s the one major plot point I just didn’t buy. Johannes Zeiler is a fine actor, plodding through life in a constant state of dour and hostile angst, and an evening’s release would certainly be worth a great deal. But not quite enough to cash in his soul.

However I’m open to persuasion.

* First Hitchcock made ROPE, a film in what appeared to be one shot, but which was really several shots connected by moving in on characters and allowing for dark dissolves, etc. Then there was Warhol, who merely left the camera running, often on a single event, such as EMPIRE (1964), which ran 485 minutes focused on the Empire State Building, a giant step backward for mankind’s use of cinema. RUSSIAN ARK is the most ambitious continuous-shot project yet, and whether it will work for you aesthetically or not, it must be seen.

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