Monday, October 4, 2010

Russian Ark: A Review

Although the film Russian Ark may have released in 2002, it is never late for an appropriate review. Available in the DuPont-Ball Library of Stetson University, the Russian language film is a surreal travel through nearly 300 years of Russian history.

The film takes place entirely in the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg, with each room of the palace offering a different scene into critical events in Russian history. Russian Ark is viewed in a first-person perspective as the narrator who is traveling through the palace.

For part of the film, the narrator is guided though the halls and rooms by a mysterious "European" who has little respect for Russian culture. As a different room is entered, the narrator enters a different chapter in Russian history in non-sequential order. In one moment the narrator is in the era of Catherine the Great, then during the Siege of Leningrad, and finally at a royal ball before the outbreak of World War I (with numerous more events in between).

Russian Ark is not a history lesson or a documentary, but a series of glimpses into Russian society and the various turning points that occurred within the Winter Palace. The film offers numerous snapshots to what events may have (or actually did) look like. Further, the comments by the narrator or the European provide perspective and context to which period the film had moved to and what was happening to have some since of the transition.

What is the most remarkable about Russian Ark is that it was filmed in one continuous take and was not edited (save the final seconds at the conclusion). With over 2,000 extras in the film and over 30 rooms used, logistically the creation of the film itself is breathtaking.

I had the intention of learning some Russian through the film, which eventually became an impossible task. The narrator spent most of the time mumbling and the other 'characters' were often either too distant or intentionally made difficult to hear. Of course, I am not an expert on the Russian language, so perhaps a fluent speaker could clearly understand what was being said. Nevertheless, watching Russian Ark is certainly an opportunity to hear the Russian language and also to see how Russia looked throughout its history.

Unit 2 Dialogues (with Patrick Bailey)

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