Author`s name Michael Simpson

Sokurov's Mission

Moscow saw the long-expected film "Russian Ark"
Russian film director Alexander Sokurov differs from many of his colleagues as he doesn't stand up for "Orthodoxy, autocracy and folk character"; he is a rare guest at film congresses, sessions and different meetings; he doesn't run for governmental posts. This not tall, slightly limping man with low voice merely makes movies, but doesn't proclaim at that he is Russian. In fact, this explains quite a lot.

Sokurov is known for a long period already as an elitist film director who makes films for those people who can understand them. Any kind of reputation is sticky. The reputation of a genius artist who looks like a man not of this world and who can be understood just by elite only is practically indelible. The time when Alexander Sokurov made "odd" movies (such as "Lonely Voice of Man", "Spiritual Voices") has sank into oblivion. His last works, "Moloch" and "Taurus" are wonderfully made, although they are rather primitive conceptually. In fact, there is hardly a film director in Russia who makes films like Alexander Sokurov; the actor performance is very particular in his films, the film maker employs different technical innovations. The idea of the film "Moloch" is to demonstrate the wretchedness of those people whom we elect to be in power and who are consequently guilty of all troubles people suffer. The idea demonstrate thus that people are themselves guilty of all their problems. The film "Taurus" is movie for the sake of movie.

Sokurov's "Russian Ark" will be certainly included into all text-books on the movie history. The film is a sure feat. We would like to beg pardon of the film's admirers, but it is still not clear why the film maker shot the whole of the film in one take without stops. Why was it done so while it was possible to shoot a film in several takes and the camera could be stopped? It is quite obvious that the author did it with a view to attract people who don't belong to admirers of elite movies. 

The subject of "Russian Ark" is wonderful: the whole of Russia's history is shot is the halls of the Hermitage within 1.5 hours without stops. Realization of the idea is also stunning. Camera of German cameraman Tilman Buttner weighs 35 kilograms, and he stoically rushed about the Hermitage with the camera following the Russian history in every hall of the museum. This hard work lasted for 1.5 hours. Over 1,000 people acted in the film and its crowd scenes. 3 pails of special make-up powder were bought and 6,500 particular "history authentic" buttons were made especially for the film. There is no precedent for this film in Russia. Experiments of this kind have already been made in the world cinematography, let's take Alfred Hitchcock for example.

Once in an interview Alexander Sokurov complained that Europe was ready to ignore Russians, that Europeans on the whole knew less about Russians than we knew about them. Is Sokurov's new film a campaign against the foreign ignorance, an idea to demonstrate our Russian ark of culture? Probably it is not bad. It is worth mentioning that the box office of the film in the USA is fairly good: as Americans say themselves, the last movie by Alexander Sokurov registered the box office at the rate of about one million dollars (while other sources say the sum is 1,800 thousand dollars). It is very good for a Russian film. Sokurov and his producers established direct contacts with foreign film distributors. Within a year, the film "Russian Ark" was demonstrated in almost half of the world countries, the USA, Germany, Brazil, Japan, Portugal… For the time being, the Russian film is demonstrated in 20 countries. It is strange but the film is not widely demonstrated in Russia. Itwas only last week that "Russian Ark" showed up in Russia's St.Petersburg and a bit later was demonstrated in Moscow.

Premiere of the film in Moscow was organized in Moscow's Kinocenter (Movie Center), although its Grand Hall is three times less than in the House of Movies. Recently, Alexander Sokyrov withdrew the film from voting for nomination at the Gold Eagle film contest. He explained that the film was not yet finished and promised to run for the nomination next year. It is strange that the film was considered as finished for participation in the movie festival in Cannes, for demonstration in the USA and Japan, but it is said to be not finished for participation in the contest for Russian nomination.  

 But it is now perfectly evident who is to be awarded with the Gold Eagle prize next year. It will be embarrassing not to award Sokurov for making this film. A bit earlier, Alexander Sokurov asked the European Film Academy to strike cameraman Tilman Buttner out of the list of candidates to the nomination Best Cameraman. And that concerns the very cameraman who rushed about the Hermitage with his heavy 35-kilogram camera! It was said that some faults in his work entailed losses (however, it would be strange if a cameraman were not mistaken at least once while realizing the difficult idea of the film director). In a word, that was not quite nice of Alexander Sokurov to strike the cameraman out of the list of nominees, especially if we take into consideration the hardest regime of Buttner's work. In fact, the budget of the film was not big, 2.5 million dollars; the government also made its contribution into the film budget.  It is said that it was the German company Egoli Tossel Film AG that incited the Russian film director for the doing with respect to the cameraman as it was dissatisfied with its losses at the rate of 0.5 million dollars. Long-term designs connected with German money and the need for a scandal, this is how Alexander Sokurov fell out with the European Film Academy.  Sokurov's cruel self-promotion that he has mastered recently became an obstacle for Buttner on his way toward the nomination the Best Cameraman.

To convey the Russian culture into the western masses is very noble doing. And rather profitable, by the way. One may be declared a man really caring about the Russian culture if one is not shouting at every corner about reviving of Russia and its art, is not speaking about Russia what it could have been but will never be at all. If a man is quietly making a film for a narrow circle of connoisseurs at home and for a wide range of admirers abroad with money sent from the west, he can be called a man really caring about the Russian culture. Every artist wants to be famous. Some people are ready for becoming famous, they are ready to disregard their glorious artistic past and become the Chief Keeper of the sovereign culture (like Russia's Nikita Mikhalkov). Others are ready to disregard the governmental officialism and to become the Chief Keeper of the culture, but an unofficial one. One is working hard on the domestic market, and the other - on the foreign one. The result they both achieve is practically the same. As for Sokurov, there is less piety in his address, as he is shouting less about the Russian culture and its problems, and certainly because he makes good quality films. It is important to say here that although Alexander Sokurov has taken great interest in commerce and self-promotion, but he has still managed to retain his talent.  And at that he is getting much dividend. It looks like Russian culture missionaries are coming into fashion in the west once again.     

Nezavisimaya Gazeta