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Movie Review: Russian Ark

Story: This is one of the strangest films I have seen in 2002. Russian director Alexander Sokurov successfully manages a continuous, uninterrupted take of 96 minutes of film in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. Why you ask? He wanted to shoot a seamless flow of Russian Imperial history as it is preserved in this incredible museum that served as the Czar's winter palace. It is a repository of a Russia that no longer exists.

With a cast of what seems like a 1000 extras, all in period costume, we float through the museum in a dream like state as historical vignettes are played out before us. None of them have beginnings or ends. It seems as if we are opening doors to moments in time, like intruders. I admit to being totally lost for parts of the film. It was still a fascinating feat to watch - although quite head scratching at times.

If you are looking for something very different, (if you can even find this film) take a break from the seasons blockbusters and watch this unique cinematic vision. Sometimes you just have to support work that is groundbreaking.

Acting: There wasn't any acting - simply a lot of walking or gliding, through the museum and through history.

Predilection: I like to see something different.

Critters: No live critters allowed in the Hermitage but there was a conversation about the symbolism behind the images of a chicken and a cat in one of the paintings.

Food: A scene with Czar Nicholas and his family around a table but I don't remember them eating any food.

Visual Art: Thirty-three galleries of paintings and sculptures - too numerous and delicious to mention all of them.

Blatant Product Placement: None.

Soundtrack: Beautiful, when there was music.

Opening Titles: Simple black background with a white type face.

Theater Audience: Packed with what looked like Russophiles, ballet dancers, art students, political Upper West Side radicals, retirees and some diehard Communists. The gentleman sitting two rows in front of us made it a point to tell everyone who sat near him that he was sitting next to a legally blind man and would probably be speaking loudly to him during the film. This seemed to clear a wide berth around him. I commented to my pal that this was an interesting movie ploy because no one would sit in front of them or near them. Wouldn't you know it, the minute the film started they moved way to the front so we became the lucky ones with a clear view to the screen. We laughed.

Quirky Meter: 5

Predictability Level: I knew the Russian Empire fell but I had no idea where this film would take us other than through the Museum.

Oscar Worthy: The costumes were spectacular.

Nit Picking: Unless you have a very good grasp of Russian history you will be totally lost.

Big Screen or Rental: Rental would be fine. For some great films about Russia, how about renting Dr. Zhivago, Reds, East-West and Gorky Park, to name but a few.

Length: 96 minutes.