Three hundred years of Russian history are presented in a single, 90-something minute shot. If that isn't a technical marvel, I don't know what is. Unfortunately, I could film a 90-minute shot of cars driving by and it would be just as entertaining as Russian Ark.
It probably doesn't help that I really only know my Russian history beginning with the assassination of the royal family, but regardless, Russian Ark is a dull, meandering and ultimately weird movie that leaves little to be desired for. Obviously, filming a movie for 90 minutes with a single take (think of the preparations that went into this) is impressive, but Russian Ark was not nearly as intricate as I suspected.
Get this: the plot of the movie, seemingly, is that a Russian cameraman (the narrator) and some weird-looking European guy who can suddenly speak Russian are transported back in time and go on this journey through Russian history, which mainly seems to take place in St. Petersberg. There are no characters are plot; the camera just rolls along at a slow pace and the two "main" characters exchange odd dialogue about art and Russian history.
Again, not to dismiss the immense discipline it takes to film an entire movie in one take, but it is just not as intricate as I expected, and was hoping for. Half of the time the camera just pans along corridors looking at artwork, and the weird European guy remarks that the Russians have no class, and then changes his mind. Several times. I personally find art museums rather boring, and it felt as though I was in one here.
The other half of the movie, the half where actors are actually doing something, felt as though I were in a museum exhibit, where you go from one display to the next in a progression of history. There are no real characters to become connected with, and aside from the pointless and repetitive dialogue between the cameraman and the weird European, very little dialogue at all.
Russian Ark is a major disappointment. I was intrigued by the technical aspects of the film, but having seen it am not even impressed with those. The camerawork is so simple and meandering that it hardly seems to difficult. What really hurts is a lack of any story or meaningful characters; the director had to throw in a narrator just to explain what we were seeing on screen from time to time. What a waste of time.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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