A 2021 Film Journey: Day 97

Today marks the final day of my interlude between completing my Oscar viewing and the beginning of SIFF. Before jumping into today’s feature, which was another choice of a film that I’d been wanting to watch for a while, I want to talk a bit about my plan for the next 11 days of the festival. Rather than an informal blog post at the end of each day like I’m doing now, I’m hoping to write something more akin to mini reviews for the films that I watch. I’ll likely aggregate a day’s worth under this post category for continuity’s sake, but I won’t be doing double work.

Russian Ark (2002, Dir. Aleksandr Sokurov)

I don’t believe I’ve ever felt less cultured by a film before. Aleksandr Sokurov’s technical tour de force is a love letter to Russian Empire and the art housed in the Saint Petersburg Winter Palace. Taking place over a 96-minute single shot, the film traverses eras from the 1800s to present day as the palace is used for operas, a ceremonial imperial audience, a ball, and museum attendance. Each of these moments represent an important moment in Russian history that I wish my subpar US school system prepared me to appreciate more.

More than anything else, what stands out when watching Russian Ark is the spectacle of it all. The single take gimmick is the showiest aspect of the spectacle. As the Steadicam moves at a rather deliberate pace, the impressiveness of the single shot filmmaking is less about any singular difficult moment and rather at the grandiose scope of it all. The final 20 minutes in particular as the camera weaves through hundreds of dancing extras all meticulously costumed for a period ball is breathtaking in it’s beauty. When the music finally ends and the hundreds of actors all proceed to exit the palace bringing the camera with them, it’s as if the film is taking a bow with one final acknowledgement of the technical feat that was accomplished over the last hour and a half. Even with a lacking at best knowledge of the Russian Empire’s history, these moments sold the occasionally opaque film for me.

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