REVIEW – Faust (2011)

Not the UK box art but I think this may well be the worst DVD cover of all time and I simply had to share it.FilmJuice have my review of Alexander Sokurov’s Faust.

Like many people, my first contact with the work of Alexander Sokurov was his 2002 film Russian Ark. Filmed in the Winter Palace and shot in one long continuous take, Russian Ark presents itself as a journey through Russian history. Visually striking and technically flawless, the film is a brilliant exercise in cinematic logistics as Sokurov does not just produce an entire film in a single shot, he also stage-manages hundreds of extras in real time with absolutely no room for error.

Much like Russian Ark, Faust is both visually and technically impressive:

Shot amidst narrow streets using a very narrow aspect ratio, Sokurov fills the screen with extras to the point where the film’s main characters struggle to be seen and heard. Hemmed in on all sides by people and buildings, Sokurov’s Faust withdraws into a world of ideas only to be shocked and horrified by his resulting distance from human concerns. The self-destructive nature of Faust’s psychological exile is made all the more clear through a series of allusions to great works of art which, despite their considerable beauty, are entirely lost on the self-absorbed Faust.

Based on the well-known and often-revisited story of a Renaissance scholar who sells his soul to the devil only to discover his soul’s true worth, Sokurov’s Faust presents the character as a bored intellectual who is so detached from the world that he literally would not know what to do with unlimited power were he to receive it. Much like Christopher Marlowe’s Dr Faustus, Sokurov’s creation acquires neither wisdom nor morality alongside his satanic powers.

Much like Russian Ark, Faust is the product of a man with amazing technical skill and very little to say. As I said in my review of Russian Ark, his films are lifeless collages of beautifully rendered images. Affectless to the point of absolute sterility, Sokurov is a gifted cinematographer needlessly elevated to the role of director.