Alexander Sokurov’s tribute to the State Hermitage Museum of Saint Petersburg, a tour through time and space created in a single, unbroken shot lasting over ninety minutes, is a cinematic experience like no other. Neither documentary nor traditional narrative, it is sui generis, marrying history and art in a tour-de-force act of filmmaking that is as graceful as a ballet and as thoughtful as an essay.
The camera floats through the rooms and hallways and crowds like the disembodied spirit of our mysterious narrator (voiced in the intimate rumble of an interior monologue by the director himself), at times guided by an eccentric host identified in the credits only as “the Stranger,” a spindly, aristocratic time traveler who slips back and forth through history and seems at home in every era. Crossing the threshold to each gallery is like stepping into another era, from the modern museum teeming with contemporary patrons to an 18th-century reception when it was the Winter Palace of the Tsar to a storeroom filled coffins for the dead of World War I to the reverie of the last royal ball of 1913. It’s a dance through history and Sokurov is the master choreographer.