“Russian Ark” gives one a vicarious historical tour of Russia


The Russian anti-gay propaganda law has made the country seem like a “no go zone” for me right now;  I presume that a western blogger with publicly available material on LGBT matters could be detained.  And an early chapter in my “Angel’s Brother” novel (Chapter 4) has a scene in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg.  So the next best thing is film.  And perhaps the most important film ever shot about the museum is “Russian Ark“, by Alexander Sokurov.  I originally saw the film in 2002 (the year it came out) at the Landmark Uptown Theater in Minneapolis, on a big screen.  Recently, I bought the BluRay DVD from Anazon (distributor is Kino Lorber).


The concept of the film (for example, as explained here)  is another interesting example of layering.  A ghost, the Marquis de Custine (Sergey Dreyden) comes awake and time-travels through the Hermitage, starting in the Winter Palace, reviewing all of Russian history (and meeting all the great public figures) up to the time of a great ball in 1913, before revolution would expropriate a lot of Czarist wealth.   The royal residence would be transformed into a museum in 1917, after a new government was in power. The ghost is accompanied by a “spy” dressed in black (Leonid Mozgovny).  The film digresses in the middle section, presenting a great hall reduced to rubble by WWII battles.

The presentation of Russian history would seem to rival that of the opening ceremonies at the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014.


The orchestra plays some music by Glinka toward the end.  At the very end of the film these is a ghostly, impressionistic image of the outdoor canal in ice, surrounded by fog.

The DVD includes a 43-minute short, “In One Breath“, explaining how the film was was shot in just one continuous take (ironically, a technique known from Alfred Hitchcock).

Wikipedia attribution link for 2008 image of Winter Palace by Dezidor (author Dezidor. CC 3.0 unported).

(Published Saturday Jan. 31, 2015 at 10 PM EST.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *