Starring: Alexander Sokurov, Sergey Dreyden, Mariya Kuznetsova
Director: Alexander Sokurov
Running Time: 99 mins
Russian Ark (Русский ковчег) is a Russian film about a man who wanders the halls of the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, moving through centuries of Russian history as he floats between the rooms of the glorious palace.
When it comes to this film, there are two completely different elements to talk about, one of which is an exceptional achievement, while the other is unfortunately rather underwhelming. As a visual, technical and overall cinematic feat, Russian Ark is truly impressive, with its 99 minute-long take proving an exceptional piece of work. However, it’s not a film that’s ever really going to grab you, and apart from the beautiful visuals and unique cinematography, the film’s narrative premise is a little too weak to keep you engrossed throughout, making Russian Ark ultimately a rather dull watch.
Let’s start off on the bright side of things, with the film’s truly stunning cinematographic feat, that is filming an entire feature-length movie in just one take. There’s no clever CGI or editing trickery, this is a film where they pressed record at the beginning, and shot an entire movie in just one take, which is truly extraordinary.
Couple that with the enormous scale that the film takes on, not only in a historical context (that is taking place over the course of a few centuries of Russian history), but also the fact that it all happens in the enormous physical space that is the beautiful Winter Palace of the Hermitage Museum.
Unlike all other films, which can move through enormous spaces in an instant with a simple cut, this film physically walks you through the space that the film takes place in. It’s a strange and unique sensation, but it really emphasises the scale of the building that the story takes place in, and further eccentuates the notion of crossing across centuries of history, something that’s really impressive to witness, and completely unlike any other film.
However (and it’s a big however), as incredible a technical achievement as this film is, I really didn’t find it an interesting watch. Initially, its historical setting proves a striking element, but from then on, it becomes a rather difficult and inaccessible watch (particularly if you’re not exceptionally familiar with Russian history), with a story that largely focuses on following a man around as he comments on the art, culture and history of Russia.
In comparison to a film like Birdman, which is also (effectively) a single-shot movie, there’s no tension or drama that really keeps you engrossed in this film as it floats at a very slow pace through a collection of rooms and time periods. There’s an element of entertainment in entering a new room and, with that, a completely new world, but that’s about it, and apart from marvelling at the beautiful architecture, there really isn’t all that much to interest you here, making this an unfortunately boring watch throughout.
Overall, while Russian Ark is an exceptional and unique achievement of cinema, and one that creates a completely unique viewing experience, however due to a slow-moving, uneventful and rather inaccessible story, it really isn’t the most fascinating watch, and that’s why I’m giving it a 6.7.