Russian Ark is a difficult film to rate, and seeing it a second time hasn’t made this review much easier. The obvious point to make about the film is whether or not the one shot worked, and for me, it was mostly a success. The idea of ‘sailing’ through history, and the slipping between rooms as if they were different time periods was carried out with oneiric grace, and the use of one continuous shot depicted history as a fluid force, rather than a series of discrete events. However, there are times where it is clear we are watching not just a film, but a filmic experiment. For example, when the ‘European’ is moving between rooms, he chatters and repeats words to himself in a clear effort to stall the camera to allow for the next vignette to prepare – there is even the moment where he puffs air at a disgusted-looking man peering through a door. While they don’t disrupt the flow enough to justify calling the experiment a failure, they certainly seem strange, as does the confidence of this rakish eccentric, who waltzes in and out of shot.
This having been said, the film triumphs visually – kudos to the Steadicam operator for his smooth camerawork, and to the lighting crew who kept the entire museum lit beautifully. Finally, the end sequence with the camera panning back to incorporate what may be the entire cast of the film seemingly leave the museum engenders an emotional response unlike anything I’ve experienced in any other film.