An obscured, unnamed narrator journeys across morphing, ethereal landscapes of frenetic and impersonal European cities before seeking refuge from the inclement weather at a desolate, neglected museum in an unidentified European town. Wandering through the austere and soulless rooms, the narrator’s silhouette melancholically hovers over paintings like a brooding, unreconciled ghost, organically reflecting in a resigned stream of consciousness on masterpieces from Pieter the Elder Brueghel’s emotionally charged Tower of Babel to Pieter Saenredam’s idyllic Saint Mary’s Square (accompanied by the achingly elegiac sound of Gustav Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder). Aleksandr Sokurov incorporates somber hues, underlighting, and visual distortion to create a pervasive atmosphere of transience that is reflected in the sensorial images of seeming perpetual motion: bustling cities, street traffic, ocean voyages, and windmills are contrasted against the stasis and anonymity of the lifeless museum. In the end, as the narrator rapturously declares, “Above all is life. Eternal life.” before the Saenredam painting even as his own recollections of the recorded image behind the moment of creation seems personally irreconcilable, Elegy of a Voyage becomes an evocative, sensual, and understatedly ironic meditation on the ephemeral nature of art, spirituality, existence, and memory.
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