Russian Ark (2002) – movie review

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Russian Ark is a Russian film surprisingly not in the Criterion collection which follows a man who claims to have died in a tragic accident. The movie starts with our nameless narrator thrust into a Russian museum where he travels through multiple time periods spread among the rooms of the museum with a European stranger who has also seemingly died.

Confusing concept right? What if I told you that the entire film (which explores events which take place hundreds of years apart) is done in one single continuous take. Not like Birdman or Rope where it was made to look like it was a singular shot, THIS WAS ACTUALLY DONE IN ONE TAKE.

One shot, one camera, one museum, only one day to shoot in that museum and 2000 actors make for quite an incredible film. But it is worth watching?

Constructing a film which explores different time periods, uses massive set pieces and is done in one long take is already one of the greatest feats in filmmaking history but utilising all of this for an incredible story would be perfect. But is it? Not really.

Our narrator and European friend go through a lot of rooms and meet a lot of characters yet seem to experience so little. As a viewer, we are just sort of floating through each event like a ghost on a holiday without ever feeling anything. The characters don’t go through any emotional change, noticeable arcs or late-life dilemmas, they’re just observing history and discussing art.

Russian Ark may feel more like a fancy theme-park ride than a constructed story but it is a fancy theme-park ride I’m glad I was on. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed my time in Russian Ark but I’m grateful for it and it made me think about stuff. What kind of stuff? Important stuff.

Sergei Dontsov plays the European stranger whom our narrator accompanies throughout his museum tour and Sergei is wonderful. He speaks and moves with the most personality of any character I’ve ever seen in a Russian film and I wish I could meet him.

I would give an opinion on the main character’s performance but after some long thought, I realised there is no main performance. The narrator is just a camera with a voice added on in post-production by the director. The voice is nice though. Booming.

A slight fault I have with this film is that I’m unaware of the leads’ state of being. Are they ghosts? Are they members of the underworld? Are they partaking in a virtual tour? Is everyone around them performing the most elaborate stage play ever?

At times, the two leads walk through rooms unnoticed and invisible but at other times, they seem to be interacting with other people. The script kept switching back and forth between them being present and them being omnipresent and it annoyed me a little.

Despite this one minor flaw, Russian Ark is the most incredible accomplishment in the field of filmmaking that I’ve ever seen and it is definitely the best theme-park ride I’ve ever been on. And you can experience it at home!

If you’re looking for a comedy, watch something else but if you’re looking for an experience never before seen on screen, watch Russian Ark.

What did you think of Russian Ark? Leave your comment on the side and don’t forget to follow my Instagram page for movie posters.

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