Russian Ark [Celluloid Hero]
Russian Ark (2002)
I do tend to lean towards indie movies with this blog; despite that, I tend to shy away from "art" movies. In this case, though, I would definitely classify Russian Ark as an art movie. It takes place in an art museum, the focus is on the different paintings and sculptures and other various art, and the entire process of making the movie is an attempt to change the art of filmmaking.
The experiment of "Russian Ark" was to do a movie in one shot. The camera fades up from black and does not cut until we fade back to black ninety-five minutes later. Kubrick and Scorsese and Woody Allen are known for their long tracking shots, but most of those don't run past a few minutes. In this case, the entire movie is done without cutting or editing.
The actual plot of the movie got a bit esoteric at times, focusing on the art history of Russia. The location is The Hermitage, a famous Russian museum, one of the largest in the world. The camera provides a first-person perspective of a somewhat mysterious narrator, who apparently died in an accident and is a ghost traveling through history. He meets another traveler, and they tour the museum. The two go from room to room, analyzing and criticizing, debating the merits of Russian culture as opposed to French or German or Italian. Admittedly I didn't get most of the references to different sculptors or art movements, although I could appreciate the beauty of each of the works.
I wanted to view this movie simply for the concept of a single shot movie. I was unsure how the technique would work, and at times it was a bit distracting. Obviously at first I was focusing on how the camera moved and interacted with the cast, but after a little while I was able to just go along for the ride. It created an interesting effect, as we were just floating through the ether with these two other ghostly characters. At times the rest of the cast noticed us, at times we were invisible and wove through the crowds effortlessly.
With a cast of literally thousands, including three full orchestras, the movie was an epic on a grand scale. As an exercise in unique film-making, Russian Ark is one of the more interesting films I've seen. If you're looking for a riveting plot, look elsewhere. If you want to enjoy real beauty, this is a good choice.