HOME   News   Reviews   Adv Search   Features   My DVD   About   Apps   Stats     Search:
  Directed by
  • Widescreen 1.85:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer ( )
  • Russian: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • Russian: Dolby Digital Stereo
  • Commentary - English: Dolby Digital Stereo
  • Commentary - English: Dolby Digital Stereo
    English, French
  • 4 Theatrical trailer
  • 2 Audio commentary
  • 2 Documentaries
  • DVD Text

Russian Ark

Madman Cinema/AV Channel . R4 . COLOR . 95 mins . G . PAL


Pick a date, any date you like, from all available dates and imagine on that date you had organised over 2000 people, three full piece orchestras, countless costumes and jewellery and one very nervous cameraman – a cameraman who must carry one camera for an hour and a half as he follows your vision throughout one massive museum which has been set-dressed to display the awe and magnificence of over 300 years of Russian culture, picking out highlights and recognisable figures as the camera makes its slow progression of over one and a half kilometres through the stately halls of the museum, focusing on classical art pieces, exquisite sculpture, events, history, fantasy and carrying with it an overwhelming sense of awe as it runs solidly, with no breaks, no pauses, no edits and no mistakes in one single, uninterrupted shot – a shot that sounds too difficult to contemplate but it happened in The Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, Russia, on February 23rd, 2001 as director Alexander Sokurov gambled everything on a bold experiment that was to change the way films are perceived forever – which is quite remarkable in itself, as film has been around for over a century now, yet this film has taken us somewhere no-one else has ever managed to in creating this extraordinary film of intense beauty, haunting illusion and an inanimate building that seems to come alive with the passage of years, breathing with all it contains as the hero piece of the film, rather than any of those 2000 cast members who tell its story – a story that has witnessed the greatest of Russian events and the most tragic of its history and all told here with the linear voyage of time rippling seamlessly like an ocean rolling rhythmically before out eyes, displaying today alongside yesterday alongside last century and last century alongside today in one completely fascinating and astonishing trip through Russian history that leaves the viewer breathless by film’s end, which in turn is another beginning, and wondering how on Earth this film was accomplished in such a manner – how any film could be made with so many factors necessary to complete the picture in the right manner and so much that could go wrong at any given moment; it defies process, and it stands forevermore as a testament to creativity, inventiveness, ingenuity, courage and love, for it is certainly a labour of love, a film of this simple magnitude, and one that proves there are new things yet in the world, new paths to tread and people out there willing to tread them.


Feel how uncomfortable that was to read, but after a bit you got used to it until you finished? That’s a bit like Russian Ark. We are so used to receiving edits in our films, we grow subconsciously uncomfortable as we wait for the edit until we realise what is happening here and we acclimatise, as it were. Visually astounding, there is little of complaint here. Perhaps a touch of graininess occasionally when the camera travels through a narrow, dark stairwell, but other than that this film looks damn good. Damn, damn good. I can’t stop thinking about it, to be honest. It’s extraordinary and looks pretty much perfect.


While the character whose eyes we witness the Russian Ark through mumbles quite a bit as the film progresses, this is okay because it’s in Russian. Even if you can’t understand him though and you speak Russian, there are clear subtitles that keep pace well. The dialogue between our protagonist and the curious and acerbic 19th century French diplomat is all clear and sometimes even amusing as they wonder (and wander) about the place they have just arrived in as if waking up in the dark and fumbling for clues by hand.

Delivered in Russian here in Dolby Digital surround 5.1 and DD stereo, the surrounds get used for little more than music and occasional crowd scenes, but this doesn’t matter. We become so fully immersed in the film this could probably be in mono and get away with it. However, by the end of the film and the final ballroom scenes, the surrounds are working well to bring the packed ballroom to life and the magnificent orchestral music, performed in situ.


If, like I was, you are a little confused after the film and wishing you knew more Russian history so as to appreciate the film better, this is where the help comes from.

"Let’s hope it’s not a tragedy…"

Our first additions are in dual audio commentaries. The first is producer Jens Meurer as he takes us through the film’s making. Not chosen for his expansive knowledge of the film, but rather he speaks the best English, this is still very informative and throws some clear light on many of the more interesting parts of the film. The second features film theorist Dr. Barbara Creed who is very well-informed on the symbols and so forth about film in general and helps bring out even the most pedestrian of props or events on screen. This is a very interesting introspective and told with an Australian accent (by the sound of it) which is a nice touch here.

Now for the highlight: In One Breath: The Making of Russian Ark. This 44 minute documentary describes everything else you could ever want to know about this film, how it was shot and the innumerable costumes and such (all made in perfect replica for this movie especially). This is astounding and blew me away with the scope of such an impossible production. There is also some nice info about the special effects used in post-production and the historical context of the film’s many and varied moments. A second camera captures everything going on behind the camera and the expressions are priceless, especially when that all important final word ‘CUT’ is used.

A second 44 minute documentary follows entitled Museum of Memory, a lecture by Dr. Christopher R. Marshall given during the theatrical release of Russian Ark in Melbourne. This is a pretty informative talk about museums and so forth across the world and, while only partially related to the film, is a very worthwhile inclusion. He’s an interesting fella.

The same grotty trailer seen on numerous other Madman releases is next and this runs for 2:10 with a bloody great scratch on it. At least the scratch is all in one take too...

Finally a page of weblinks and the Madman Propaganda bit in which we have trailers for Standing in the Shadows of Motown, Amandla! and Swing.

Naturally the first four featured bits here are the better inclusions.


I was worried that the critics had hailed this because it was some hoity-toity arthouse number that they say is spectacular to make people think them cultured. Thankfully, I was way wrong there. There is a storyline and a mystery among the meanderings and after the initial discomfort of the long shot fades, it will hold you and pull you closer.

With a film of this calibre and this magnificence, there can be no doubt in my mind as to it belonging in the hallowed halls of our own little Hermitage here, the DVDnet Gold Collection. The costuming, the storyline, the design and the sheer scope of this picture demand that you visit it at least once. An historical achievement for cinema, for Russia and for the world, Russian Ark is unmissable.

  • LINK: http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=3591
  • Send to a friend.

    Cast your vote here: You must enable cookies to vote.
  •  DVD NET Gold Review List 
      And I quote...
    "There has never been anything to even remotely compare to this film. It is perfect. "
    - Jules Faber
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Teac DVD-990
    • TV:
          Sony 51cm
    • Speakers:
          Teac PLS-60 Home Theatre System
    • Centre Speaker:
          Teac PLS-60 Home Theatre System
    • Surrounds:
          Teac PLS-60 Home Theatre System
    • Subwoofer:
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
      Recent Reviews:
    by Jules Faber

    Narrow Margin
    "Gene Hackman as an action star? It happened… "

    A King in New York: SE
    "Taking a poke at too many demons makes this film a little stilted and not among his best works"

    A Zed and Two Noughts
    "Is it art or is it pornography? Who cares? Both are good."

    Blake's 7 - The Complete Series One
    "Performances are fine, but the flimsy sets, the crappy props and the undisguisable late 70s hairdos are just too much."

    Heavens Above
    "While not amongst some of Sellers’ more confident roles, this one is still up there amidst the more subtle of them…"

      Related Links


    Search for Title/Actor/Director:
    Google Web dvd.net.au
       Copyright © DVDnet. All rights reserved. Site Design by RED 5