A review of “Russian Ark” by Jeanne Aufmuth


Stars: ***

Rating: Not Rated, but could be PG for mildly adult situations

Run Time: 1 hour, 36 minutes



I’ve rarely been so restless and so spellbound in a single sitting.  “Russian Ark” utilizes state-of-the-art technique – a single, 90-minute long Steadicam shot – to weave its way through thirty-three “sets”, over nine hundred actors, three live orchestras, and St. Petersburg’s richest historical heritage, the Hermitage Museum (nee “The Winter Palace”).

Told from the point of view of a lone camera operator (unseen) and his ghostly, 19th century French diplomat muse (Sergey Dreiden), the pair move in and around the Hermitage’s legendary collection of treasures.  Always moving, always observing, and relentlessly contemplating the paintings, the people, and the objets d’art that personify Russia’s turbulent history.  The Bolshevik Revolution, Nicholas II and his doomed loved ones, Peter the Great – the cast of characters and their historical sagas is categorically grand.  A single, imposing ballroom panorama captures the scope and the majesty of a lost era.

Keep in mind that this tour de force is a work of cinematic art.  Not a single edit, opening up to a continuous fiber of time that mirrors its subject’s free-floating anxiety and congenial confusion. 

Did I mention restless bordering on shades of boredom?  “Russian Ark” is difficult to follow if you’re not immersed in the concept of Russian culture.  I myself am not a connoisseur of Soviet history – consequently I had some trouble parsing the narrative.  But the genius of the work speaks volumes, offering up a hallucinatory dreamscape that both frustrates and captivates.