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Ergo Sum

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Russian Ark

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Review and commentary on a film about Russia and her history.

I managed to catch a showing of Russian Ark at Drexel East. The film is a unique Russian look at Russian history. This is a view of history and statement on the future that is almost certainly foreign to almost any American.

The film's narrator finds himself in the Hermitage, and quickly runs into a European marquis. Neither knows why he is there. In an amusing exchange with the narrator, the marquis is also surprised to learn that he speaks Russian.

As the narrator and the marquis wander from room to room, they find themselves encountering significant events and persons in Russian history. The two make quite a pair, as the marquis look at much of Russian art and culture as a knockoff of what others in Europe had already done, and the narrator finds himself (usually) defending the Russian works as unique.

Many points can be made of the film. Perhaps it is no surprise that no two people I've spoken to about the film have exactly the same thing to say about it. Some think it's a commentary about Russia's inability to find her own unique identity. Others suggest that it shows that Russia's greatest days are behind her. Still others suggest that it shows that things in Russia are as they always have been.

No one seems to think that it paints an optimistic view of the future. Of course, doing so would probably seem strangely American. Optimism isn't something that exists much in Russia. Many there say they are happy today because tomorrow will be worse.

In any case, it's a view into Russian history worth taking. The film is in Russian, but has English subtitles. (If you can follow the Russian, though, you'll pick up a few gems that are left untranslated.) There isn't a lot of explanation of the characters encountered, but a brief review on prominent Russians from the time of Peter the Great through the Russian Revolution of 1917 should be enough to prepare you for what you'll encounter.

In retrospect,I'm not sure that the film is really pessimistic in its view. In fact, I might even be willing to argue that a certain amount of optimism can be found in the film: that through artistic expression, people can remember history and find a sense of direction even if they've lost their way somewhere in the middle.

Created by cmcurtin
This article originally appeared on Sunshine Poultry.
Last modified 2004-08-24 04:50 PM
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