Sokurov’s Jubilee Film

Sokurov’s much debated film Russian Ark is a film of many paradoxes. Its premiers travel from West to East in America, Europe, and Russia, and contrary to the histories of Russia it (re)presents, has led to many confusions and irritations.

Picture theory as “sculpted” through the history of pictures, bodily perceptions and intercultural questions seem to be an entry-point for understanding and analyzing the film. A tangible simultaneousness of historical epochs, visual techniques and thoughts about preserving a national film-culture (in the context of the “global” or European threat) comprise some of the complexity of the film. Still, these issues are not always satisfying.

Some are bored and/or irritated by the setting of the film. These viewers often focus on whether Sokurov has betrayed his ideals by advertising the Hermitage and actual restorative tendencies. They also question his support of Putin-or at least the repetition of the cliché of degeneration since the beginning of 20th century history.

Others feel disturbed by the involvement of the French guide and his obvious behavioural displacement in most of the scenes. This guide represents the “typical gaze” of the West on Russia in a far too passive manner.

A great deal of these reactions (and advertisements) are concerned with the technical innovation of the HDCAM digital technique-which made the screening in one shot possible. There was also the controversy over Sokurov’s refusal to take part in the official EFA Award Ceremony. Several rumours in Germany spoke of Sokurovs jealousy of the operator Tilman Büttner, who was also supposed to receive a prize.

In fact, Sokurov and Derjabin protested against a typical misunderstanding in the honors for technical innovation: As new technologies usually lead to a greater invisibility of art (a “realistic” threat of the cult of new technologies), their artistic usage is “guaranteed” by the director and the whole production process, and never in terms of the operator’s work alone.

The argument in favour of aesthetic totality and the struggle for authorship is a common issue in Russian cinema. The techno-scientific paradigm is also a part of Russian culture and identity. Thus his point against the German technological contribution also recounts the old history of Germans and their fetishization of technology.

Thus the ideas explored in the film extend into the debates surrounding the movie itself. Mentioning the financial impact of the film on the Russian Culture Ministry highlights the political prejudices against Sokurov and points to the “deeper” background of this and next year’s Russian-German cultural meetings.

These “misunderstandings” on an international level (in European co-productions for example), and the position of an ambitious director like Sokurov, seem to add to the different layers of history, art and culture in the director’s uncut movie.

See also the article Roundtable on Alexander Sokurov’s film “Russian Ark”.