Alexander Sokurov's Russian Ark is the first feature to be shot in one single, unedited take. Filmed on digital video inside the Hermitage at St. Petersburg, the film required the collaboration of hundreds of actors. Sokurov's camera -- held deftly by Tilman Buttner, who filmed the steadicam shots of Run Lola Run -- floats effortlessly through the corridors of the Hermitage, capturing the ornate vaulted ceilings and grand halls of the museum.
In the film, a cameraman and nineteenth century French marquis mysteriously find themselves in eighteenth century Russia. They are lost in the labyrinth of the Russian Ark, a living museum of Russian history and culture. As they wander through its corridors, both men become first-hand witnesses to a series of historical events: an orchestra plays as a theater troupe performs for a disinterested Catherine the Great. In another room, the family of the last Tsar sits for dinner. Events unfold in steady succession, in one breath -- everything occurs under the single, unblinking take. It's easy to praise Russian Ark for its technical feat, but the single take is no mere novelty act for Sokurov. His film is essentially about time, the take allowing for what he calls the film's "natural collaboration with time." The museum corridors are instilled in multiple layers of time, as the film is preserves both past and present in a collective history. The result is a sort of unorthodox history lesson, the camera leading us on a winding journey through Russia's past. The viewing experience is without comparison. -- James Beaver