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Petersburg Magic and Rio Gangs

Film review of Russian Ark and City of God in the Sept 21st 2002 issue of The Economist. I saw both films in their US premieres at the 2002 Telluride Film Festival, and also had the honor of interviewing Fernando Mereilles (dir. City of God) and Tilman Butner who shot Russian Ark. Both films are tour de forces, both technically brilliant and visually stunning. They are also, in very different ways, close to being faultless cinematic narratives.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

CINEMA today is all too often just about plot or special effects. So films that are true to the medium, successfully weaving together sound, image and time to tell a really cinematic story are always special. On show at Telluride earlier this month were two remarkable examples.

Alexander Sokurov’s “Russian Ark”, which opens in the United States in November, explores the 300-year-long history of the Hermitage museum in a single “breath”, an uncut 90-minute walk through 35 of its rooms and halls. This has never been done before, and the result is, among other things, a magical rumination on what film can achieve.

Tilman Büttner, the director of photography who operated the steadicam used to shoot the film, has turned the camera into one of its main characters, a contemporary film maker trapped in a journey through Russian history, with Mr Sokurov himself speaking its part. As we move from room to room an array of different scenes come up—Peter the Great whipping one of his generals, for example, or present-day visitors enjoying the works of art. The camera is invisible to the film’s other characters, apart from a fellow time-traveller, a 19th-century French diplomat. The relationship between the camera and the diplomat, against the backdrop of some of Europe’s greatest works of art, reveals the main theme of the film, Russia’s uneasy link to its past and to Europe.

Read the rest of the article as a PDF here.

Sept 21st, 2002 Issue

Russian Ark Still

Still from Russian Ark

Poster for City of God

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