Aleksandr Sokurov – Spasi i Sokhrani aka Save and Protect (1989)

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A retelling of Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary as a surreal story of universal suffering, the film emphasizes the heroine’s internal transformation as she slowly loses her grip on reality. Her erotic fascination with rich clothing and her almost childish desire to seduce and to be lost in passion is brilliantly contrasted with the small-town life that leaves Emma tragically isolated in her passionate attempt to bridge the gap between spirituality and sensuality. Continue reading

Aleksandr Sokurov – Chitayem Blokadnuyu Knigu AKA Reading Book Of Blockade (2009)

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The lengthy siege of Leningrad during World War II cost a million civilian lives. In Alexander Sokurov’s documentary, various people – actors, journalists, students, soldiers – read eyewitness accounts about this ‘historic and cultural disaster’, to use Sokurovr’s words. Continue reading

Semyon Aranovich & Aleksandr Sokurov – Altovaya sonata. Dmitriy Shostakovich aka Sonata for viola (1981)

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A deeply moving and reverent biopic of Soviet composer and pianist Dmitri Shostakovich. It’s co-directed by Aleksandr Sokurov (“The Russian Ark”) and veteran filmmaker Semyon Aranovich. Shostakovich was born in St. Petersburg in 1906 and died in Moscow in 1975. The understated black-and-white biopic follows Shostakovich as a frail young man as seen through photographs and traces his life through personal documents, recorded appearances, and concert performances of his work set against archival footage of daily life in the Soviet Union. It shows him during his glory days of early critical acclaim until his disfavor under Stalin because of his political views and struggle for creative freedom. He was honored in 1958, five years after Stalin’s death, by his country, as he was awarded the second Order of Lenin after graciously not accepting it a year earlier in order for the first Order of Lenin to be posthumously awarded to Sergei Prokofiev. He was recognized for his genius in composing the 7th Symphony during the Second World War, which was an uplifting reminder of the war. It opens with the scene set in a besieged Leningrad. Shostakovich’s dream was to bring his music to the masses and give his people an appreciation for their rich culture. The title comes about because Shostakovich’s “Sonata for Violin” was the only work he composed that he never heard performed. The film, made in 1981, was discovered after it was buried to hide it from the KGB, who at an earlier date banned it.
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Aleksandr Sokurov – Odinokiy golos cheloveka aka The Lonely Voice Of Man (1987)

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Made in 1977, and only finally released in 1987, this is Sokurov’s first feature-length film. Extraordinarily beautiful, utilising an array of unusual stylistic devices, it seems as if Sokurov’s style was fully formed from the outset. A sublime meditation on love, loneliness, life and death, it still stands as one of his finest achievements. Continue reading

Aleksandr Sokurov – Vostochnaya elegiya AKA Oriental Elegy (1996)

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Oriental Elegy (1996). Visually impressionistic, atmospherically dense, and narratively opaque, Oriental Elegy is the surreal journey of a displaced spirit (Aleksandr Sokurov) as he wanders in the interminable darkness through the temporal landscape of a quaint and isolated feudal-era fishing village. Guided by a series of faintly illuminated rooms, the wandering spirit comes upon ancient souls who take on physical forms as they recount their personal stories of daily existence, loss, and tragedy in the peasant community. Intrigued by his initial visit to a curiously distracted elderly woman, the spirit returns to her home in order to ask a fundamental question – “What is happiness?” – an existential query that is innocently answered with innate humility and accepted unknowingness. Through abstractly textured imagery and indelibly hypnotic dreamscapes, Sokurov composes a metaphoric, sensual, and evocative tone poem on a soul’s search for enlightenment and the essential survival of human consciousness. Continue reading

Aleksandr Sokurov – Avtomobil nabiraet nadezhnost AKA The Automobile Gains in Reliability (1974)

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This film was created by Sokurov before or during his VGIK student years for the regional TV of Gorki. He does not consider it a part of his filmography. For its creators, it was just a TV program, and the people who worked on it most often were being given no distinction in the credits. This document of the very origins of Sokurov gives us a notion of his “pre-stylistic” period, where the personality of the future great filmmaker reveals itself in spite of means and circumstances. [from the catalog of Torino Film Festival] Continue reading