Faust – Alexander Sokurov – The camera swoops down from a high altitude, through wisps of cloud, down over the wrinkled teeth of mountains, down further into the grouped roofs of a small town, down further, finally arriving through old barn doors into a grimly dank space. Chained to a large vertical slab is a corpse, the camera finally finishes its epic introductory zoom, to settle in clinical scrutiny upon the cadaver’s limp penis. As opening sequences go, it’s admirably mad and unexpected.
We begin this unorthdox adaptation of the Faust legend, in a makeshift morgue: Faust closely inspecting a corpse, the light dim and natural, sawdust scattered on the damp floor, dishevelled costumes and architecture - suggesting anything from (as Peter Bradshaw suggests) the 16th Century of Marlowe’s Faustus…or, as Wikipidea assuredly asserts, the 19th Century. Clarity is not a prioritised mode, and, unsurprisingly (given Sokurov’s audacity of innovation – Russian Ark) the film looks very distinctive. The image occassionaly warps, as if stretching and contorting the ratio, not dissimiliar from the reflections in fairground mirrors. Conversations meander as Faust and an impishly deformed incarnation of Mephastophiles wander through cramped attic spaces, dirt addled impoversished alleys and mountainous landscapes. Colours are parched and faded, perpective is constantly changed and confused, meanwhile any sense of purpose or narrative-structure is evasively stumbled into claustrophobic corners, or lost in peripheral confusion. All of which makes for a peripetetic and disorientating journey.
The film navigates between an exhausting and slow sense of directionless boredom and moments of incisive epiphany. Suddenly conversation trails away, as if in correspondance to your lapsing attention, and then, with a dream like fixation, the camera hovers on a face – its expression/eyes/mouth/features – and suddenly you are transported to a different plain of attention. It feels as though, quite without warning, everything hinges upon this moment, this passing glance or incidental expression. In these lingering, most often silent shots, the visuals become mesmeric. Facial expressions are imbued with ineffable significance, which, in contrast to the ambling oddity of Faust’s surrounding wanderings, become islands of startling and unsettling power. It is a truly odd, singular and beguiling beast; without its monotony, perplexing pace and visuals, it wouldn’t be capable of providing such arresting (though often fleeting) beauty. A complex film that I definitely need to see again at some point. In conclusion: Sukorov… you cryptic enigma, you nomadic Russian seer, you purveyor of human truth…obtained, blurred and illuminated via the darkly scenic and indirect path. 8/10