Whether working maximalist (RUSSIAN ARK/’02); minimalist (POVINNOST/’98); or on something in-between (ALEKSANDRA/’07), maverick Russian director Aleksandr Sokurov has always been precise. Exactly the quality missing from this sprawling mess of a FAUST. A big award-winner* and much-acclaimed, the film charges forward with a fusty Bruegelesque mise-en-scène (in the sound design, too) that exhausts when it needs to enlighten. At least it opens well, emphasizing a scientific Faust as he digs thru the innards of a moldering corpse. His useful assistant, Wagner, thinks they might find the soul in there; next to the liver. But soon, Faust and his new pal (guess who) are meandering around town, looking for a meaning to life; or love (guess who); or just a place to take a bath. No small task for a devil with a body that’s put on backwards. Shot with rounded corners in the old Academy Ratio using lenses to slant the image, it’s also digitally degraded to over-expose the color-drained palette; a painterly headache occasionally relieved by a calmly beautiful composition. The last of a Sokurov tetralogy, he seems relived to be done with it.
LINK: *Winning the Golden Lion @ the Venice Film Fest becomes a bit more explicable in light of the competition.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: There's always F. W. Murnau’s silent FAUST/’26. But don’t write off Sokurov on this misfire. Try MOTHER AND SON/’97 or (for the sake of variety) FATHER AND SON/’03. Not easy viewing, but great.