The Hermitage in St. Petersburg is a historical treasure, with important works of Russian art spanning centuries. From imposing architecture to elegant oil paintings, the building is considered by many to exemplify Russia's rich cultural heritage.
Lauded as a ground breaking technical achievement, director Aleksandr Sokurov's Russian Ark is a single, fluid shot of the Hermitage, taking the perspective of a disembodied 19th century aristocrat and providing all the energy of a 200 year-old still life.
The film is, essentially, a one and a half hour long tour of the building, associating its many beautiful artifacts with the aristocratic figures that valued them so highly. However, this should come as no surprise to anyone paying attention to the opening credits, which reveals that the historical society responsible for the promotion of the Hermitage is one of the picture's principle producers.
Technically, the film is inspiring. Period costumes abound, the locations are beautiful and the fact that an entire movie was filmed in a single take is a stunning achievement. However, most of the movie amounts to costumed figures traipsing around without saying anything of consequence. We meet Catherine the Great, but she promptly runs into the snow for no apparent reason.
Though a well shot journey through a cultural institution, this film offers little else. I would love to see these artifacts in person, but will decline another tour through the Russian Ark.