Alexander Sokurov’s Russian Ark (2003) is more than simply a tour of the State Hermitage Museum of Saint Petersburg. In a single, unbroken shot lasting over 90 minutes, the viewer is swept not just through the breadth of the physical space but through hundreds of years of Russian history, slipping back and forth in time as the unseen narrator (the camera serves as the roving point of view of our spirit of a host) crosses thresholds from one room to another.
This isn’t documentary; it is historical pageant, with scenes staged for each room along the journey. Sokurov himself narrates as the off-screen voice of the spirit-like observer while our journey is guided by “The Stranger” (as he’s identified in the credits), a spindly figure in 18th century finery commenting on the art works and historical details while gesticulating with theatrical flourish. Sergey Dreyden plays the role of the playful time-traveler, a man oddly at home in all eras, which Sokurov modeled on The Marquis de Custine, a real-life French aristocrat and historian of the 19th century. Other historical figures who appear along the journey include Peter the Great, Catherine II, and Nicholas I.
Plays Monday, December 9 on TCM