Russian Cinema

Morphia, 2008

Adapted from Mikhail Bulgakov’s collection of autofictional stories, A Country Doctor’s Notebook, Aleksei Balabanov’s Morphia is an unvarnished portrait of rural Russia at the cusp of the Bolshevik Revolution. Told from the perspective of an idealistic young doctor, Polyakov (Leonid Bichevin), Morphia retains the humor and texturality of Bulgakov’s prose to underscore Polyakov’s difficult and… read more »

The Tuner, 2004

Something of an irreverent collision between the offbeat, carnivalesque formalism of Lina Wertmüller or Ulrike Ottinger, and the somber, often sardonic view of despiritualized, post-communist societies from contemporary, ex-Soviet bloc filmmakers such as Darezhan Omirbaev (in particular, Killer), Béla Tarr, and Cristi Puiu, Kira Muratova’s The Tuner is a wry, infectiously offbeat, penetrating, and relevant… read more »

An Unfinished Piece for a Player Piano, 1977

At a picturesque, remote estate in turn of the century Russia, a jovial physician, Nikolai (Nikita Mikhalkov) recounts an indelicate tale – momentarily stopping to inspect his reflection on a silver carafe – of his truncated courtship of a young woman named Ksyusha Kalitina following an embarrassing encounter with the deaf, elderly nurse at the… read more »

Alexandra, 2007

One of my favorite films from this year’s festival is Aleksandr Sokurov’s Alexandra, a spare, poetic, and understatedly affirming elegy on the spiritual and moral consequences of a corrosive, interminable war. At the heart and soul of the film is the stubborn and indomitable babushka, Alexandra, played by the famed Russian soprano and sprightly octogenarian… read more »

The Sun, 2005

Aleksandr Sokurov has always seemed to be particularly in his element with his dense and amorphous expositions of integrated, Eastern spirituality (A Humble Life, Dolce) and the commutation of collective history (Oriental Elegy, Russian Ark, so it comes as no suprise that the third installment of his historical tetralogy, The Sun – a film that… read more »

Russian Ark, 2002

Aleksandr Sokurov’s Russian Ark was next, and it is quite a spellbinding, visually brilliant film, as Sokurov transports us through episodes of Russian history through the confines of The Hermitage Museum in one long unbroken shot (in the same experimental vein as Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope) that seems to create a seeming perpetuity that underscores a… read more »

Elegy of a Voyage, 2001

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… read more »

Dolce, 2000

Dolce opens to a clinical biographical overview of writer and poet Toshio Shimao (1917-1986) as the narrator (Aleksandr Sokurov) thumbs through a family photo album, describing Shimao’s privileged life as the heir of an affluent merchant family, before enlisting in the Japanese military as a kamikaze pilot during the Pacific War. Stationed on a remote… read more »

Mother and Son, 1997

Mother and Son opens with a languorously sublime image of a man and a woman; their physical forms distorted through an anamorphic lens. A son (Alexei Anashinov) attends to his terminally ill mother (Gudrun Geyer) at a remote house in the Russian countryside. He whispers to her, combs her hair, talks her through an asphyxiating… read more »

A Humble Life, 1997

A Humble Life is a languidly paced and serenely patient chronicle of the austere and simple, yet noble life of an elderly woman (later identified in the end credits as Umeno Mathuyoshi from the village of Aska in the Nara prefecture) living a solitary, Zen-like existence in the mountains. Aleksandr Sokurov’s static camera reverently lingers… read more »