The goal of shooting an entire film with one successive take, is daunting in many ways. To maneuver actors, props, etc., as if on a stage, is in and of itself, a monumental task, but to hold an audience’s attention while all of this is going on, without them feeling it’s going on, is a much bigger accomplishment, and “RUSSIAN ARK” does it, and does it magnificently!
“RUSSIAN ARK” was filmed, and takes place entirely within the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. The setting is beautiful enough by itself, but Director Alexander Sokurov and his crew have enhanced it even further with incredible costumes, effects, and more! There are literally thousands of people featured in the film, making the films aspirations even loftier, for if one person faltered, even momentarily, then the entire film would have to be restarted to accomplish its “one take” goal. And, as the extras on the disc explain, there were problems like this, resulting in the film having to be restarted at least three times before getting it right!
“RUSSIAN ARK” doesn’t have a traditional narrative. Instead, it’s more of a meditative journey/debate of philosophy through the ages, as seen through the eyes of the narrator and a French diplomat from the 19th century. The diplomat displays a “better-than-everyone” type of unwarranted snobbery, so typically French. He continuously expresses the belief that Russia is dependent upon Europe for its sense of culture, not being advanced enough to have a respected one of its own! The narrator, never seen, confidently expresses Russia’s own sense of accomplishments, both artistic and cultural.
WELLSPRING has preserved the film’s 1.78:1 aspect ratio, with 16:9 enhancement. Having been originally shot on high-definition video, there are some flaws in the transfer. The image generally has a soft look to it. Colors are impressive, however, and never appear muted. Contrast quality varies. While some dark scenes offer perfect clarity, others lack sharpness. There is also some pixellation in various scenes. However, this is a problem inherent in transferring high-video, and it’s doubtful that short of a theater, this image can be improved upon.
WELLSPRING has presented a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that’s simply wonderful! There’s a surprising amount of surround/directional effects used throughout the film, and the music is wonderfully complimented as well. Dialogue is always intelligible(when intended to be)and free from distortion. The fidelity throughout the film, is remarkable! There is also a surprising amount of .1(LFE) effects to make the most of any subwoofer.
WELLSPRING has put together some noteworthy extras for this release. The film’s producer, Jens Meurer, provides a running commentary. It’s a very technical commentary, providing incredible, in-depth detail about the film, making its accomplishments stand out even more. Unfortunately, it’s probably too technical for those who simply enjoyed the film.
A “behind-the-scenes” documentary, “IN ONE BREATH, THE MAKING OF RUSSIAN ARK” offers a captivating, lengthy(though never dull) look at the film’s production, from rehearsal to completion. It’s well done, and highly recommended.
“MON PARADIS, DER WINTERPLAST” is a fairly lengthy featurette, examining the Hermitage, via interviews with curators of the museum. It educates the viewer about the museum’s exciting history as well.
A trailer is also included.