(Clicka qui per traduzioni in italiano)
Alexander Sokurov (Russia, 1951) started out with documentaries because his feature films were mostly banned by the Soviet censors.
Odinokij Golos Cheloveka/ Lonely Voice of a Man (1978), lost and reassembled in 1987, was a tribute to Andrei Platonov's "River Potudan" and "Origin of the Master", filmed with nonprofessional actors.
It began his collaboration with screenwriter Yuri Arabov.
Skorbnoye Beschuvstviye/ Mournful Unconcern (1983), released only in 1987,
set during World War I, distorts Bernard Shaw's play "Heartbreak House" via
Painful Indifference (1987), inspired by Bernard Shaw's play
"Heartbreak House", was banned in the Soviet Union.
Dni Zatmenia/ Days of the Eclipse (1988), his most Tarkovsky-ian film,
based on Arkady and Boris Strugatsky's novel "Za Milliard let do Kontsa Sveta/ A Billion Years Before the End of the World/ Definitely Maybe" (1974), is set in a desolate village of the Turkmen desert.
Photographed by Sergei Yurizditsky,
the film alternates between monochrome and colour, but there is no meaning
in the color. The camera is sometimes sitting on the floor and sometimes
hanging from the sky.
The film is littered with many references to politics, literature and cinema.
Even the soundtrack, which is a dense hodgepodge of styles, seems to be part
of the narrative.
Documentarian footage and surreal imagery mix, and, because the color switches
randomly from sepia to full, it is not clear which is which: reality or fiction, and, if fiction, real or dream.
The plot is often confused, lacking enough information for a rational understanding.
The camera flies over a red land and seems to crash into it.
Then it turns into black and white sepia mode and shows a group of old grieving people
in a poor village, and then we see a brief ethnographic documentary of life in the village.
The camera shows us a typewriter, a pocket calculator and documents lying on
the desk of an office worker who is only wearing short pants. A very hot day.
The telephone is ringing nonstop.
Dima eats a giant sandwich while a iguana, nicknamed Joseph, stares from outside the window.
He and his friend, who is wearing a suit and tie, open a package
that contains a dead lobster buried in gelatin.
Dima mentions that religious people don't get sick as often: it is the topic
of his research in that primitive town.
Dima is a young doctor, a tall blond Russian in a remote corner of Turkmenistan,
who is still working on his dissertation.
His visiting sister finds a giant snake in the house. Dima carries it on his shoulders to a neighbor.
He tells her that diseases depend not only on factors like nutrition but also
on religious belief.
His friend Andrey asks to see him but then doesn't explain why: he only asks about a Gubar.
At night the city is rocked by a little earthquake that wakes up the sister.
Dima's sister blames him for her being still single: she rejected a prospect
to remain near their mother, who otherwise would have been abandoned.
He reminds her that he never asked her to come and help him.
The following day Andrey is found dead. We see the
police inspecting his apartment that is in a chaotic mess
and then soldiers carrying out the dead body.
We then see documentary footage of a music performance and other parts of town.
Dima sees two kids fighting and tries to separate them with the only result
that they both attack him.
Back home, he finds a note and some money: his sister left.
A demented soldier walks in, wearing a uniform and carrying a gun.
The soldier mocks his writing, demands a glass of water, lies on his bed.
He accidentally pulls the trigger and the shot scares a baby.
He is Gubar, and sounds completely crazy, and behaves like he is hiding from someone.
When Dima grabs a book, Gubar shoots again: he wants Dima to sit.
Then Gubar runs out, and on a hill is confronted by a group of soldiers.
Gubar dies in the shootout.
Dima visits Andrey at the morgue, and the dead Andrey starts talking to him,
warning him that he is crossing the line (presumably with his research)
and that "guards of unimaginable power" will "put up resistance".
Dima then visits his friend Sacha, a Tartar, and collapses on the floor.
He tells Sacha that Andrey killed himself.
Sacha tells the story of how the Tartars were persecuted and his parents died.
Later Dima finds a hungry child at his doorstep.
Dima gives him a shower and gives him food, while the radio broadcasts a Catholic mass in Italian.
The child refuses to tell him where his parents are. The child cryptically tells
Dima that his parents hurt him because of him (of Dima).
Dima lets the child sleep in his bed.
The following day Dima examines the child and realizes that the child needs to see an eyedoctor, but the child tells him that there isn't enough time.
The bell rings and, while Dima is distracted, the child reads the page of his
dissertation that Dima has just written.
Dima visits Sacha and meets his history teacher Vladlen. Someone has killed
Sacha's dog and hanged it on the wall (a warning to scare him away?)
The teacher is afraid of something.
He tries to distract Dima and refuses to pick up the phone when it rings.
He warns Dima to stop writing, because writing is the work of the devil.
The teacher gets scared when someone rings the bell and doesn't want anyone to
open the door. But it's only a family member, Marina, who wants him to go home.
We see footage of work in a factory.
We see vast desolate landscapes.
We see Dima boarding a train in motion and one of the passengers is Sacha.
Dima escorts Sacha to a station where he boards a ferry and remarks that
Sacha is quitting because he is afraid (of violent ethnic discrimination?)
Dima watches with a sad look in his eyes as the ferry sails away.
But then he briefly smiles at the sky.
The film ends with a lengthy still of the desert landscape.
Save and Protect (1989) transposes
Gustave Flaubert's "Madame Bovary"
to a remote Russian wasteland.
He also directed many
documentary films, including:
Elegy (1986), about Russian opera singer Fyodor Chaliapin
I Nichego Bolshe/ And Nothing More (1987),
Mariya (1988) ,
Moskovskaya Elegiya/ Moscow Elegy (1988), about Tarkovsky,
Sovetskaya Elegiya/ Soviet Elegy (1989), about politician Boris Yeltsin (the most daring experiment of montage),
A Simply Elegy (1990).
The Second Circle (1990) is about death.
Kamen/ Stone (1992) is a dreamy and ghostly metaphysical kammerspiel a` la
Tarkovsky. Photographed by Aleksandr Burov
in black and white using distorting effects, the film also avails
itself of a haunting soundtrack of natural sounds and classical music.
An alarm goes off. The guardian of the Chekhov museum finds a stranger inside
the museum: an old man (who looks like vintage photos of Chekhov).
This old man feels at home in the museum. He plays the piano as if it
were his daily occupation. The guard interrogates the old man, who sounds
delirious and says that he might stay forever.
The young man does not live there, he only checks that nobody steals from
the museum. There are ducks wandering around the museum. The old man sleeps,
as if it were his bedroom, and a duck wakes him up. He gets up as if
in a trance. He dresses slowly while the
young man plays with the duck. The old man puts on a formal suit
and white gloves that seem to date from a distant age.
he wanders pensive around the room, like a
He tells the young man that they have no food for dinner but he
still sits at the table.
They have a philosophical discussion.
Finally, they leave the house and wander around the village.
They reach the sea and the old man walks alone at the edge of the water
staring at the horizon.
They climb to the top of a hill overlooking the bay while the wind is picking up.
They drift towards a desolate park and the old man sits on a bench.
Everything would be the daily ritual of an old man if it weren't for the fact
that at the beginning he has been introduced as an intruder.
Back at the museum there is even less food left for dinner.
The old man is still dressed up and stares at the fog rising over the hill.
They listen to the storm outside and sit in front of an empty table.
They stare at each other.
The old man gets up and walks away.
The young man says that he wants to follow him but doesn't get up from the
Tikhiye Stranitsy/ Whispering Pages (1993), photographed again by Burov, is mostly filmed in
closed, roofed, claustrophobic environments with naked dirty walls
and very little dialogue except for the lengthy scene with the girl.
Many scenes evolve very slow, and sometimes look like still nature.
The plot concerns Raskolnikov, the protagonist of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's
"Crime and Punishment", who has killed an old woman, and, during that
lengthy scene, the simple girl who lived with the old woman.
The visuals are obviously more important than the plot or the dialogue.
The film uses images to paint the soul of the protagonist.
Black figures move in a dark urban landscape located near a river.
They exchange a few sentences: one needs money, one wants to know about a woman who was murdered, ... Then we hear loud women chatting and laughing, their
voices almost demonic. People come and go. Among them is a young man who
is walking home.
A girl comes to his room and invites him to the funeral of her mother.
The camera is flooded with flames and whirlwinds of smoke.
The young man
walks among the crowd and a bearded drunkard lifts him and scrutinizes his face.
He enters a government office and the bureaucrat who runs it, a slow man with
a humpback, tells him how to fill the form to collect some belongings left
at the place of the dead woman. The bureaucrat looks anemic, in fact almost
dead, especially in a prolonged still scene. We even hear the
sound of a fly that is more typical of the wake of a corpse.
A deep space, a strong supernatural light, people entering it, confused voices,
possibly a church, possibly the funeral.
The young man leaves disgusted the government office and waits down
We hear voices and see a strong light as if his retina exploded.
The bureaucrat leaves the office, trips on the steps and tells him he still has five hours to file his application.
The young man is clearly a tormented soul.
He visits the girl in her room. For a while
she stares straight ahead like a blind woman.
He had told her that she would never see him again, but he has come back to
confess that he is the one who killed the old woman.
He didn't intend to kill her, it was an accident... She responds with
She makes him knee and asks him to confess publicly.
He feels they would mock him because he didn't take the money of the dead woman.
She eats supper.
He tells her that the old woman was sick anyway. She refuses to accept that
explanation invoking God. He tells her that
God doesn't exist and she is shocked.
Then he leaves and walks alone along the river.
He stops in front of the giant sculpture of a mythical animal.
We hear voices of laughing women. The camera lingers on the veins of the
sculpture wrapped in mist.
The young man lies down at the giant feet of the sculpture
and caresses its legs in a sensual manner.
The camera jumps into the sky and shows the scene from above.
Then the image starts fluctuating like a reflection in the water.
Finally, we see the young man fallen asleep under the giant beast.
These films were followed by the
documentary films Spiritual Voices (1995), a five-hour gallery of Russian soldiers,
Vostochnaya Elegiya/ Oriental Elegy (1996), set in a remote magical Japanese island.
Mat i Syn/ Mother and Son (1997) is mostly
visual poetry via Alexei Fyodorov's virtuoso photography.
The slow, distorted, austere "story" is set in a desolate landscape and
complemented with a
soundtrack of unnaturally amplified natural sounds
(wind, birds, thunder).
That's the habitat of two lonely souls, one of which is dying in a world saturated of life.
The trivial dialogue of the two protagonists is balanced by the
complex dialogue among the different kinds of lenses:
unfocused, elongated, hyper-realistic, over-exposed, dream-like;
a technological dialogue that seems to grant the characters a supernatural essence, as if they were capable of moving across different dimensions/planes of existence.
What at first appears to be a solemn requiem for all mothers turns out to
be a somber reminder that we all have to die, and that life continues around
us, even after the last human being will be dead.
There is an outside (human) world, epitomized by the train and the boat,
but it is simply and echo of many other lives like these, all of them
doomed to die.
The first scene, shot through anamorphic lenses, sets the tone for the rest
of the film: the mother is half asleep and the son talks about a dream,
and then she whispers about a terrible nightmare, and then
they realize they have been having the same dreams.
She is ill but she wants to go for a walk.
He carries her outside in his arms. They sink in the
hallucinating colors of the landscape, the whistle of a train vivisecting it.
He leaves her on a bench and wraps her in a blanket .
He comes back and they revisit old postcards.
Suddenly she suffers from an acute fit of pain against a rumble of distant
thunder, and she sees somebody in the sky.
The storm is approaching, he carries her around the countryside
and back into the house.
He leaves her on a chair, while the wind is howling outside.
She knows she is dying, but she is mainly sorry for him.
She is sorry because he will have to go through what she is going through.
Big black clouds approach over the landscape.
He leaves her alone, while her fingers are playing with a moth,
and goes for a walk. There is a rumble in the sky that
could be from an airplane, not the thunder.
He starts running but then stops to watch the train crossing the valley
under the black clouds. Then he breaks down: he crouches by a tree and
starts crying (while we hear a woman singing, perhaps a memory of his mother
singing a lullaby to him as a child).
Back into the house he examines his mother's lifeless hand, observes the
dead moth, and rests his face on it. He murmurs that he will join her
at the meeting place they agreed upon.
Meanwhile, Sokurov continued to make
documentary films: Confession (1998), about the captain of a ship that
patrols the Arctic Sea,
Dolce (1999), about the wife of Japanese writer Toshio Shimao,
Elegiya Dorogi/ Elegy of a Voyage (2001), the most hallucinated of the series.
Moloch (1999), the first of his "anti-biopics", is a surreal comedy about Hitler's relationship with
Eva Braun. Sukorov gracefully plays with the two characters and with history.
Hitler gets partially rehabilitated: a mad man, yes, a megalomaniac, yes;
but not a slaughterer of Jews. And much more humane than usual.
The film is really mostly about Eva, a lonely woman who truly loves Hitler
and who cannot find any other meaning in life. She is often shown alone,
pensive, over the background of gorgeous natural scenery.
Eva, naked, walks around the villa on top of a hill, surrounded by fog.
She runs and jumps along the veranda and even walks on the edge of the
precipice. Somebody is watching her with a binocular. Eva returns to her
room, gets dressed, plays a record and dances alone. A commotion downstairs
announces the arrival of Hitler and Goebbels. They take the elevator to the
villa. Goebbels' wife Magda is a good friend of Eva (possibly the only friend
she has). Goebbels himself is a diminutive and insecure man, who gets excited
very easily and always tries to please the fuhrer. He hates Martin, a fat
pig whose only job seems to instruct the secretary on taking notes.
Now that the fog is fading away, a fantastic landscape appears. Eva is
neglected by Hitler, who is kind and cerimonious with friends and staff,
but in bed he is hysterical, paranoid, hypochondriac. He believes to be
sick and to be about to die. Eva is the only one who dares contradict him.
The hosts and the guests regroup for dinner. Hitler is a wonderful host.
The secretary takes notes of everything they say, even the silliest jokes.
Then suddenly Hitler gets delirious and... falls asleep. When he wakes up,
the whole group walks outside for an impromptu picnic. Goebbels wants
to catch butterflies, but there are none. Hitler shits amidst the rocks.
The group is so silly that even the soldiers are embarassed.
A priest comes to visit Hitler, asking for clemency on behalf of a deserter,
but Hitler shows no respect for the church.
Later, he watches a propaganda newsreel, while Eva is alone outside, staring
at the sunset. Magda calls her husband "a failed writer". Eva speaks of
Auschwitz, but Martin denies that such a place exists and Hitler does not
seem to know of it. Again a meal is served, and Eva flirts with Martin.
After an offensive speech by Hitler, Eva leaves the room. Hitler finds her
in the bathroom with a revolver in her hand. Hitler gets delirious again,
and Eva kicks him. They start chasing each other around the room like children.
Then Eva confesses that she loves him tenderly.
Hitler and the guests leave early in the morning and leave Eva alone again.
Taurus (2001) is his anti-biopic on Lenin.
Russkiy Kovcheg/ Russian Ark (2002), shot in high-definition video (boasting the longest unbroken shot in cinema yet, courtesy of
cinematographer Tilman Buettner), offers, ostensibly, a tour of the Hermitage, which is
the Russian equivalent of the Vatican Museums. But it is also, and mainly,
an allegoric, Dante-esque tour of Russian history (the Hermitage is a container
of Russian history). As we are walked through the art collection of the
Hermitage, each room fills with a costume scene, which often makes reference
and even stages historical characters. The tour guide is a Marquis,
a foreign diplomat who lived in the Napoleonic age, and who is clearly not fond
of Russian culture. In each room, he comments both on the art collection and on
the historical scenes.
The narrator (which the credits call "The Spy")
talks about an accident and then lets his memory fly back to
the 19th century, as the camera focuses on the entrance of the Hermitage.
Young officers and young ladies enter the building in a festive mood.
The narrator introduces the "play" that is going to take place and wonders
whether it is going to be a comedy or a tragedy. A man in black appears, the
Marquis. He is a foreigner and comes from the age of Napoleon. He is the only
character to see and hear the narrator, and begins a dialogue with him.
The Marquis wonders "what am I doing here?" And then summarizes the whole of
Russian history as a "missed opportunity". He follows the officers and ladies
up a spiral staircase while discussing Peter the Great with the narrator.
At the top of the staircase, the Marquis finds himself in a room full of
ancient machines, where the event is being prepared.
On stage a ballet and an orchestra carry on their rehearsal. Among the audience
is the empress, Catherine II (this is probably a rehearsal of one of her own
plays), but she has to rush out because she needs to urinate,
although she finds all doors locked,
and the audience gives her a standing ovation.
An invisible spectator to the tour (and here the film
abandons its Dante-esque structure) is the narrator, whose dialogue with the
Marquis adds another dimension to the allegory. The narrator has written a book,
but we are not told which book. Is he the director himself? Is this his own
meditation on Russia? Does the Marquis reflect the director's views, or does
it represent the way foreigners view Russia? Or is the narrator the conscience
of Russia itself?
One is reminded of Tarkovsky's andTheo Angelopoulos' personal-historical dramas,
but the historical references have a sardonic and satirical connotation that
recalls Fellini and Bunuel.
Incidentally, for whatever reason, Sokurov felt that he had to make this film as
one continuous 90-minute shot. Two thousand actors had to get it right at
the same time (and they were allowed to use the Hermitage for only one day).
In a sense, it is the camera that takes the tour of the Hermitage.
The Marquis wanders through the huge, opulent hallways and rooms of the palace,
and admires the paintings and the sculptures, occasionally escorted by
the director of the Hermitage (playing himself, and introduced as a friend
of the narrator, and one of the few characters who can see and hear the
narrator). When the director of the museum and the Marquis discuss the
paintings, it is really two centuries that talk to each other. Besides,
the Marquis is more interested in bashing the Russian people, whom he calls
"lazy" and accuses of plagiarism, of borrowing both Europe's art and
Now the Marquis meets the young officers and young ladies entering the palace
from the main staircase. He approaches an elderly lady who is caressing a
sculpture, and she offers to guide him to a painting, but the painting cannot
be found. Two sailors interrupt them. Then the staff of the museum ask the
Marquis to leave because the museum is closing. The Marquis simply moves to
another room and attacks a shy visitor. The narrator begs the evil Marquis
to leave the poor man alone. Soldiers invite the Marquis to leave.
The Marquis finds himself in front of a mysterious door. The narrator begs
him not to open it. The Marquis opens it and finds himself outside, in the
cold, facing a man who just finished building his own coffin. The narrator
explains that Russia will go to war with Germany (the self-made coffin may be
a reference to the fact that Stalin helped Hitler).
Children are playing in the hallway. Catherine II wants to walk outside.
Her faithful servant tries to stop her, but she insists. They disappear
in the long, snow-covered street, running faster and faster.
The Marquis enters a room where masked girls are reading a book, the book
that the narrator wrote.
The camera and the Marquis enter a grand hall where the ambassador of the Shah
apologizes to Nicholas I, in front of all Russian nobility, for the
assassination of Russian diplomats. In a nearby room, waiters are setting up
the table for the banquet. The Marquis is fond of the objects in the room,
but the waiters push him out.
Outside the Marquis meets three modern intellectuals who criticize the
current government (another dialogue with the 20th century).
In the next room the Marquis sees soldiers marching out.
The girls are still playing, watched by a lady and a nun. They hear shots.
One of the girls is Anastasia. The family of the tsar sits at the table, while
the nun sends the other girls away.
The narrator (and the camera) almost loses the Marquis in the gigantic
ballroom where hundreds of officers, diplomats and ladies are dancing
to the music of an orchestra. The camera and the Marquis walk slowly through
the crowd and into the orchestra podium.
At the end of the ball, the crowd gives the orchestra a standing ovation
and then begins to leave the room, flowing outside, in the freezing weather.
The second film in the "family" trilogy,
Otets i Syn/ Father and Son (2003),
scripted by Sergey Potepalov,
begins and ends with dreams. In the first one the father is consoling the
The nexus between the dreams and the plot is not clear. The plot itself is
virtually non-existent, just a pretext for a series of close-ups and even more
cryptic dialogues. The film takes place almost entirely in one building,
sometimes in the claustrophobic apartment, there the two protagonists unleash
their Freudian traumas, and sometimes on the heavenly roof, where they can
open up, confess, meditate and play.
Alexei may or may not be homosexual, but he exused homosexuality when he stares
at his father, puts his arm around Kolya, leans his head on Sasha's shoulder.
The film fails both as a story and as a psychiatric session.
Two men embrace naked in bed. It almost looks like they are making love,
but instead it just a father consoling a son who had a nightmare.
The son clearly has mental problems. He tells his father that he
saved him otherwise "they" would have killed him.
In his dream he was wondering naked in the countryside.
Then the father visits his son in the army's barracks.
The father is a veteran and the son is following in his footsteps.
The father smiles, but the son is worried about his health.
A girl has been eavesdropping. She is the boy's girlfriend.
He knows that she is in love with someone else and she tells him that the other man is older (lots of close-ups of their faces as they talk through a window that is half open).
At home the boy is clearly worried about his father's x-rays: something happened
to his lungs.
The father is happy that he recognizes his wife (presumably dead) in the boy's facial traits.
His father secretely looks at photos of another man, Kolya's father, whose face he is beginning to forget.
In the other room his son Alexei is having some sort of attack and screams "where is mom?"
Aleksei confesses than in his dream he almost killed father.
When the father refuses to get up from his bed, they stare at each other for
a long time. Then the son bends on his father's chest like a baby who wants
to suckle from his mother's breast.
Father tells him that he can get a good job elsewhere, but Alexei replies that
he's not going to let him leave.
In the morning the father is on the roof exercisizing half naked, smiling
at the rising son, when someone comes to visit
(we see that father and son live in a
rooftop loft): it's a boy of Alexei's age.
This boy is the son of a friend of father, i.e. Kolya,
who was in the war with father,
and then divorced his wife and disappeared. The boy is trying to find clues
to why he left them and where he is now, but Alexei's father can only
reassure him that the disappeared man is a good man. But father does not
show Kolya the photos. Kolya asks father why he dropped out of the
Alexei, angry, takes the boy Kolya to his room and shows him the x-rays
of his father's lungs and tells him to look at the wound.
Alexei is studying medicine in the army.
Just then a neighbor, Sasha, also of Alexei's age, starts talking to Alexei
from his apartment that sits right across from Alexei's but separated
by a deep chasm. They have installed a plank of wood to connect the two
balconies. Alexei and Sasha walk casually on it and even fight like cats
on that narrow plank suspended over the abyss. But they are only sparring.
Alexei makes fun of Kolya who is terrified of the two and drags him
onto the plank. Kolya almost falls to his death. Alexei tells him to never
be afraid of anything (which is ironic because Alexei needs to be hugged
by his father when he has nightmares). Alexei's father sees the scene and
gets furious with his son. He pulls both of them back into the room and
beats up his son.
Kolya leaves but Alexei tells him that he wants to meet him in an hour.
Then he and his father chat on the roof. His father tells him that Kolya's
father was the only survivor of a crazy mission and wanted to kill the
superior who ordered that mission.
Alexei runs to the appointment with Kolya.
They take the tram. Now Alexei is all affectionate.
They get off at the top of the hill, where they can see the whole city and
Alexei learns that
Kolya's father started drinking and his mother kicked him out of the house.
Aleksei walks to his girlfriend
Marina s house and throws a stone at her balcony.
She comes out surprised and almost scared. He wants to know who her lover is.
He tells her that he dreamed of having a son from her, and initially
she is ecstatic but then she rejects him.
Back home, Alexei tells his father that Kolya's father is alive and his father
seems to believe in his divining power,
Alexei takes his father to the roof and
he tries to convince himself that she was not the right woman for him.
Alexei tells his father that Marina was jealous of their
father-son relationship (not true, she didn't say it).
Alexei predicts that his father will get married again.
He asks his father to carry him on his shoulders and his father does so,
as if Alexei were still a little boy.
Sasha, sitting at the edge of the roof, is cuddling a cat in his arms.
Alexei calls him, leans his head against his shoulder and tells his father that
he loves Sasha very much. His father leaves without a word. Sasha (who presumably lives alone) then begs
Alexei to let him leave with them, but Alexei refuses.
Back into the house with his father, Alexei is tormented by something. He lies
down in his bed as if he is suckling the pillow. His father lies down in his
own bed as if he is in pain.
One of the two dreams that the father wakes up in the morning to find the city
covered in snow and walks to the roof barefoot and sits alone staring at the
sea and then bends his head into his knees, possibly crying.
The Sun (2005) is his anti-biopic about Japanese emperor Hirohito, and the third part
of the trilogy on 20th-century tyrants.
This is his best attempt at
stripping naked a mythological public persona to reveal the humble and underwhelming private one.
Sukorov's meditation on war in Alexandra (2007) consists of
the sighs, giggles and mutters of an old woman.
It is an
anti-war film, but of a new genre, one that does not show a single death, no
blood, no fighting: from the viewpoint of a grandmother it is the lives of the
soldiers that are at stake, not their nation.
In a war zone (the Second Chechen War) a plump elderly woman
(the octogenarian former opera star Galina Vishnevskaya)
carrying a suitcase is helped by two
soldiers to board a train.
She's the only civilian passenger. As the train leaves, she
doesn't see that the two soldiers are attacked and probably killed.
The train arrives at its destination in the middle of the night. She is helped
by other soldiers to get off the train and board a tank. The tank takes them
to the camp, at the front. Alexandra has come a long way to visit her grandson
Denis. He is excited to see her and takes her for a tour of the camp. When she
sits inside a tank and tries a machine gun, her face turns into a mask of pain:
it is so easy to kill human beings. At night she wanders alone around the camp,
as if looking for something. She reaches the perimeter of the camp, where
the sentries try to send her away. But she's not afraid of guns and simply
sits down by the sentry box and offers food to the soldiers. She stares at
a very young one, and smiles with scorn at this mighty warrior who is nothing
but a kid far from home. She stares with a hopeless gaze at the vast empty
that surrounds the base: one of the sentries tells her that the enemy never
sleeps. She closes her eyes and says a prayer.
When she reopens them, it's morning and she quietly walks back to the barracks.
She feels pity for the soldiers who are sleeping in small bunks one next
to the other like sardines.
The commander wants to talk to her. He tries in vain to understand why she came.
She tells him that it is not right to be in a war for so long, that i causes
destruction but the rebuilding will be difficult. And she's not talking about
the "right" of fighting the war or the "rebuilding" of the bombed cities: she's
talking about the personal lives of those soldiers. Her Denis has been in the
war for too long, and shooting is the only thing he knows well: what will he do
She roams the local market, the only place where other women can be seen.
She sits down with one of those women (from the ethnic group that the
soldiers are fighting), same age as hers, and they chat like sisters. The
woman, a former teacher, takes her to the building where many of them lived.
Alexandra can witness in person the conditions in which the population lives,
in the bombed buildings of a wasteland, with relatives either dead or on the run.
Alexandra tells her that she's been a widow for two years now. Her husband
was cruel to her. Now she's free and lives a quiet life.
She hasn't seen Denis in seven years.
A young boy from the village takes Alexandra back to the military camp.
He is a sad boy, like most boys of the village. Alexandra brings presents
for the sentries, and they cook a meal for her. They probably like her because
she reminds them of life back home. She thinks of the boy from
the village while she stares at these young warriors smiling at her.
She finds her way back to Denis' place and has a tough conversation with him.
She asks him why he's not married yet, and he replies by reminding her how
awful it was to live in the family: granpa abusing Alexandra, Alexandra
abusing her daughter (Denis' mother) and so forth. Indirectly, this might also
explain why he chose to spend seven years at the warfront. But she' no longer
the tyrannical figure he remembers (nor the blunt stubborn indomitable woman
that the soldiers have met): in the intimacy of her grandson's tent,
she's weak and tired, and afraid of dying. He tenderly braids her hair.
The following morning he bids her goodbye because he has been called on
a sudden mission. She has to leave the camp. Before departing on the same
train she came from, she pays a last visit to the women of the village,
probably the mothers and grandmothers of the very enemy that Denis is
going to fight. They hug like sisters.
Faust (2011) closed the tetralogy on power with a non-historical
film that diverges from the historical meditations of
Moloch (1999, on Hitler), Taurus (2001, on the last days of Lenin) and The Sun (2005, on Hirohito).
The story is the same told by Marlowe and Goethe, with little variations,
the story of a man who sells his soul for the love of a woman.
There isn't any particular psychological depth. Far from being a Goethe-style
tragedy, this feels more like a fairy-tale, and the director seems more
interested in recreating the ordinary life of a pre-industrial age than in
investigating the metaphysical parable.
The scenes shot with distorting or colored lenses don't seem to have a logic.
It is basically up to the director to decide when to use a lense rather than
another. It is not based on the action.
The camera descends from the sky to a small pre-industrial village and eventually to the
laboratory where a doctor, Heinrich Faust, is dissecting a cadaver with help
from his devout assistant Wagner, trying to find the location of the soul.
In another room, that looks like a torture chamber, a
man is moaning on rack while they are stretching his body.
It is not a torture but a remedy to heal pain, except that this man is the
first one to survive the rack.
The "doctor" meets his father, who is examining a delirious woman.
The father is not interested in philosophy, the son is driven by the desire
to understand life.
The doctor, who is penniless, walks across town and enters the shop of
the old moneylender and pawnbroker Mauricius (and here the camera lens distorts the scene).
Nothing of what Faust offers to pawn interests Mauricius.
Faust reads the Gospels in Greek and wonders how to translate John's sentence
"In the beginning was the..." which the simpleton Wagner suggests "the I".
Mauricius comes to return a ring with the philosopher's stone that Faust
forgot at his shop.
He drinks some poison and survives it.
Mauricius is curious about Faust's place. He glimpses into
his telescope and sees a monkey on the Moon.
Faust's maid Ida seems ecstatic about the visit of the stranger.
They leave together for a walk, followed by a madwoman, Agathe, dressed in
a funny costume who claims to be Mauricius' wife and mockingly comments on
Faust's situation. When Mauricius needs to shit, he walks into a church.
There they meet Wagner, who confesses, crying, that only evil exists
and that he is on Mauricius' list.
Mauricius takes Faust among the poor and to a place where
only women dressed in white are bathing and washing clothes.
He strips naked and walks into the water, revealing his horrible sexless body .
girl laughs hysterically at the old naked monster, and Faust becomes
obsessed with her beauty. The camera uses the distorting lens again to show
Faust following Margarete/Gretchen and lusting after her.
Margarete stops to watch a corpse being buried in a graveyard.
Then Mauricius and Faust meet Faust's father carrying a man afflicted with
Faust's father kicks Mauricius and treats him like the devil.
Mauricius takes Faust to an inn where drunkards celebrating the end of the war.
The innkeeper recognizes the famous learned man and asks him about the meaning
of the comet that can be seen in the sky.
Faust reassures him that the comet is just a a ball of gas.
Mauricius performs a miracle, making wine pour out of a wall.
Margarete's brother gets upset, draws the sword and is about to strike
Mauricius when Faust accidentally causes the young man to kill himself instead.
They leave the inn where the drunkards are crazy about the free wine spilling
from the rock.
Mauricius takes Faust to witness the funeral of Margarete's brother.
Faust is ridden with guilt and asks Mauricius to give money anonymously
to her mother.
Then he joins the procession to the graveyard just to have a chance to stand
next to the mourning Margarete, who faints when the coffin is lowered into
the grave. After the funeral Mauricius escorts the mother and Faust escorts
Margarete through the woods. But later Faust complains that it was too brief.
Mauricius gives him a hint: Margarete goes to chruch every day.
Mauricius bribes the priest, who knows him well.
Meanwhile, Wagner the simpleton stalks Margarete and shouts that Faust has
stolen his ideas. To prove it, he exhibits a homunculus that he has created
in the laboratory and that he keeps in a bottle. The humunculus can only move
its mouth. Margarete runs away terrified, breaking the bottle, and Wagner
watches as his homunculus agonizes.
Margarete enters the church and walks into the confessional, where Faust
poses as the confessor. Outside, Mauricius kisses passionately
a statue of the Virgin Mary.
Faust reveals himself and follows her, but she is still in mourning.
She asks Faust to pray for her brother not knowing that Faust is the killer.
Someone tells her mother who killed her brother, and she walks to his place to
confront him (a lengthy close-up of her face viewed from a yellowish lens).
Faust begs Mauricius for help. Faust wants just one night with Margarete.
Mauricius demands that Faust bequeath his soul to him and, when Faust runs
out of ink, makes him sign the contract with his own blood.
Mauricius takes Faust into a secret underground tunnel to the house where
Margarete lives with her mother, promising to get rid of the old woman.
The rest is told in a sort of hallucination. We see Faust and Margarete
fall in a lake, fully dressed. We see Faust kissing a naked Margarete
(with a lengthy close-up of her vagina). Faust finds the flask of poison
that Mauricius has used to kill Margarete's mather.
When Faust exits the house, he finds Mauricius waiting for him, wearing
an armor. Mauricius leads him to a mountain. They climb until they reach
some rapids where dead men are waiting. Margarete's brother thanks Faust,
and Mauricius explains that his life with his mother and his sister was hell.
Mauricius keeps leading Faust up the mountain, but Faust decides to rebel:
he tears the contract to pieces and buries Mauricius under a pile of lava rocks.
Francofonia (2015) is another film about an art museum, this time the Louvre, and about how it escaped destruction during the German invasion of 1940.
This time the film is verbose, almost a stream of consciousness by Sokurov.
The multi-layered narrative includes newsreel footage, still photos, drawings,
documentary scenes and hardly any real acted scene. And those acted scene
are filmed in the same sepia tone of the vintage footage, and sometimes even
in a flickering light.
The characters are clearly metaphorical: the man who served the occupying power,
the man of the occupying power who decided that art was more important than
his empire, the emperor who did to art precisely what the new occupying emperor
would like to do to the Louvre, and the sailor who is in charge of the
cargo on a boat in the middle of a storm.
The tour guides are
a female elf obsessed with shouting the motto of the French revolution
and the ghost of Napoleon, i.e. the two sides of European power, the idealistic one and the dictatorial one.
The boat itself is a metaphor for European civilization: full of ancient art and threatened by the storm.
Sokurov speaks on a computer line with his friend Dirk about the film
that we are about to see, but they are disconnected. Dirk is on a boat that
is being rocked by a turbulent sea. The boat is carrying a precious cargo
Then we see pictures of a century earlier, great men of the past,
Tolstoy and Chekhov. Sokurov asks them what to expect from the
20th century. A female elf, Marianne, makes fun of his question
and intones "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite!"
A view from the sky of Paris interrupts this skit. Then
the crew is ready to start filming and summons Sokurov.
We are taken to 1940, when the Germans have entered Paris.
A view of the Louvre filmed from the sky.
Sokurov meditates on the value of portraiture.
The film restarts imagining what happened the day the Nazis took over the
Louvre. The protagonists are the museum's director and the German count in
charge of all art captured by the Germans.
But then Sokurov starts talking about WWI and shows vintage drawings of that carnage. Then he meditates
on the Western passion for taking ancient relics and moving them to museums.
After all, the Louvre had done to Assyria and Egypt what
Hitler was trying to do to the Louvre.
Then Sokurov takes us for a tour of the underground chambers, riding on a
cart with the female elf Marianne as a passenger who keeps shouting "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite!" to everybody.
We get also a meditation on art in front of a 9,000 years old sculpture:
art creates a work of art before the mind can think of it.
He also pays tribute to architect Pierre Lescaut of the 16th century.
The ghost of Napoleon engages him in conversation.
He is the one who brought a lot of ancient art there, loot from his imperial campaigns.
And suddenly we realize that the Louvre is not only a symbol of culture, of memory, of freedom... but also a symbol of imperial conquest.
Back to the acted film: the museum's director admits to the count that they had already shipped most of the art to castles around the country and we see
in a flashback the preparations
(with Napoleon spying from behind a door).
Then the voiceover narration and the images wander back to Viking times,
when in that place only a castle existed amid the green fields.
Napoleon grabs the hand of Sokurov and drags him to admire his own portrait.
Sokurov takes us for a tour of the paintings that tell the story of the Louvre
and chats with Napoleon who falls asleep at the foot of a giant fresco.
Sokurov mourns the nations that the Nazis did not respect like they
respected France: Russia, for example.
Marianne and Napoleon stare at Leonardo's "Mona Lisa".
She whispers "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite!" and he responds "It's me!"
The count deserves praise for having preserved monuments.
On the computer screen we see images of the storm at sea, the waves engulfing
The count refused to deport the art to Germany.
The count and the museum's directror are chatting and smoking a cigarette.
Sokurov summons them inside and presents them with their future all the way to their funerals.