Russian Ark

06/03/2024

 There is an irony at the heart of digital cinema: that it moves from a system based on analogy to one based on abstraction, but remains in its perceptual rather than its technological process a medium of semblance. Few watching a digital film will distinguish it from a celluloid one, while someone can almost always tell the difference between a painting and a photograph. A painting is made by a human hand, often using oil or watercolours, while a film image is made by a recording device and accepts the intervention by the recorder of those images is minimal. Even in celluloid cinema much manipulation took place, with models used, back projection offered and time lapses adopted, but its relationship with a chemical process, its analogous aspect, leaves us assuming, when we see in older films images of Rome, Berlin or New York, the faces of Redford, Stanwyck or John Wayne, that they were pretty much those faces and those cities we were seeing. We still make the same assumption watching these same cities and the faces of the Hollywood “Chrises’ - Evans, Hemsworth, Pratt and Pine. But are our eyes deceiving us? For Captain America: The First Avenger, “in order to play the early version of his character, Evans would have had to lose a ton of weight. As Reuters noted, the early Steve was just 90 pounds! Instead of asking Evans to lose (then regain) weight for the role, or use a body double, the producers decided to use CGI.” (The List

      Is this animation, and thus closer to painting, or still in the realm of a recording, and thus cinema? It seems the lines will increasingly blur, with Lev Manovich proposing “cinema can no longer be clearly distinguished from animation. It is no longer an indexical media technology but, rather, a sub-genre of painting.” (What is Digital Cinema?) But, as he says elsewhere, “digital photographs function in an entirely different way from traditional photographs. Or do they? Shall we accept that digital imaging represents a radical rupture with photography? Is an image, mediated by computer and electronic technology, radically different from an image obtained through a photographic lens and embodied in film?” Manovich adds, “if we describe film-based images using such categories as depth of field, zoom, a shot or montage, what categories should be used to describe digital images? Shall the phenomenon of digital imaging force us to rethink such fundamental concepts as realism or representation?” ('Paradoxes of Digital Photography') However, while this fret has been absorbed smoothly by pragmatic filmmakers who don’t care much whether a superhero film will be deemed animation or live action, for others it became an opportunity to insist on the real as extended representation. Sure, the film might be technologically digital, but it remains ontologically analogical. 

    Thus we can turn to Russian Ark, Alexander Sokurov’s one shot-wonder, a film that is 93 minutes long and contains only one single, lengthy take. Instead of taking further the opportunities digital offers to tamper with the image, Sokurov insists he is in a long-take tradition that includes Andrei Tarkovsky, Miklos Jancso, Theo Angelopolous and Michelangelo Antonioni, filmmakers for whom the take became a version of Godard’s claim that a tracking shot was a question of morality. This ethos however had technical limits: a reel of film was no more than ten minutes long, so that even such a devotee of the extended take as Jancso would offer even at his most radical a film with a dozen shots. Sokurov wished to reduce it to one and the digital camera made this possible, even if, at the same time, all but impossible. It was technologically achievable but astonishingly demanding. As cameraman Tilman Buttner says, “for a conventional film you have between 40 and 80 days of filming, minimum, it’s almost impossible that small mistakes won’t happen. I knew that they would have to correct things in post-production since 45 rooms had to be lit in 26 hours, that’s why they knew from the beginning that the finest shades of lighting would be difficult to achieve.” (IndieWire) Yet whatever post-production tampering (the sound was post-synched and the presence of cables and other things that were in the frame digitally removed), the integrity of the shot remained. There were supposedly four attempts at getting the shot. The first, according to the documentary of its making,  In One Breath: Alexander Sokurov's Russian Ark, failed after five minutes, another two were then unsuccessful, leaving them with only enough battery life for one last attempt.  

    Some might say that by post-synching the sound, and digitally removing inevitable flaws while working with a cast of 186 and 1300 extras, makes the film not quite the one-take work it purports to be. But such a response is churlish and misses the point. What matters is that there is a history of production: that the film demanded the presence of numerous cast members, many technicians, and the use of the Hermitage museum in St Petersburg. Sokurov only had it for one day, and only had four hours of good light to film in. The production was working against the clock and the crew against the possibility that any moment a mistake could be made which would ruin the shot, and thus kill the film. This meant over two thousand people in the frame needed to be choreographed carefully. While it is important not to get lost in the production details when our purpose is to practice critical analysis, nevertheless part of Sokurov’s project is surely to insist that even if film is no longer a chemical process, its integrity as a medium rests on its relationship with a reality it cannot simply control. In many a digital production, we have what we can call an absent absence as opposed to the absent presence that Sokurov still demands. In an absent absence, there is no production history as we would usually define it, potentially no actors used, no locations found, nothing that would leave a trace of a production’s actual presence in the world. But a film still concerned with an absent present wants this complicated relationship to remain. D. N. Rodowick speaks of Stanley Cavell’s comment about the “ontologically restless” and Rodowick says that part of this problem resides in the idea “that things absent in time can be present in space, a paradox of presence and absence that ordinary language has trouble resolving." Rodowick adds, "And there is another equally powerful side to this puzzle that film presents to me a world from which I am absent, from which I am necessarily screened by its temporal absence, yet with which I hope to reconnect or rejoin. Here Cavell, along with Gilles Deleuze in recent scholarship, proposes not just an ontology but an ethics of film.” (The Virtual Life of Film

       The more film banishes the presence and focuses on the absence, the more it becomes a digital form that no longer has a production history, so more and more ethical questions about film disappear. There will be others to replace them but the sort of issues that interested numerous filmmakers who have been vital to cinema will be foregone. Questions like casting your wife or lover as a character within the diegesis (as Godard, Chabrol and Antonioni did with Anna Karina, Monica Vitti and Stephane Audran), demanding immense physical sacrifices from your actors through endurance, location or transformation, including Robert De Niro in Raging Bull, Shelley Duvall in The Shining, Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now, Leonardo Di Caprio in The Revenant, and Roy Scheider in Sorcerer. This doesn’t mean actors ought to suffer for their art (and where often crews are suffering at least as much). However, by using actors and locations, these questions become possible — an ethos present. Rely entirely on a digitised process with no actors and no location, and this ethical relationship disappears. On Russian Ark, there would have been immense pressure on especially Buttner but also all of the cast and crew. Whether we believe that an art form should be focused on this type of pressure (and a variation of it is usually much more present in theatre than on film), it gives to cinema a vital relationship with an absent present. 

     Russian Ark thus has a ‘theatrical tension’ but within a much vaster mise en scene, and we can think of a couple of moments which are ontologically, restlessly breathtaking, moments that play up the enormous task involved when a one-take shot meets reality. In the first, the central character, a 19th-century French diplomat disdainful of Russian culture, re-enters the palace from the snowy exteriors, and a couple of minutes after that enters a room with hundreds of people awaiting the arrival of the Ambassador for Iran. Many are troops in full uniform, and the French diplomat moves amongst them as Sokurov’s semi-voice-over whispers into the diplomat’s ear. It is the sort of scene familiar from Jancso, large groups of people choreographed impersonally, but it is a scene within a broader sweep of history than Jancso would usually cover, and we’re aware that the cut will not come; that another sequence of monumental scope will soon follow. And so it does, when about twelve minutes later another scene with large groups of people in another huge room, who then go on to dance. 

       Both scenes are spectacular but they contain within the spectacle an aspect of Cavell’s restlessness, what he calls “the phenomenological fact of viewing” (The World Viewed). This is present in Russian Ark as a certain type of wonderment that isn’t there obviously in an animated equivalent of the event, nor even a film made up of a series of shots, nor a live event like an opening ceremony, or a coronation. Remember, liveness needn’t call into question the temporal problem Rodowick invokes: time and space are united. We are watching an event in the time it is presented. Animation needn’t either: we are watching a world on screen that has no separate temporality from our own, no sense in which the characters have passed through time as actors and location have, even if one or the other may be invoked. (Fifties Edinburgh in The Illusionist, for example, or Robin Wright’s animated self in The Congress.) 

     But it is as though Sokurov sought the most complex relationship with time that he could possibly explore, and this needn’t only be a technical, virtuoso question. As Sokurov insists when speaking in the documentary of its making: “it’s not the one and a half hours without cuts which is the revolutionary way forward for me….For me, something can only be ascribed revolutionary status if the quality of the artistic result merits it.” Let us say the demand is fourfold. Firstly, Sokurov wished to emphasise that the digital can still be beholden to the ontological question of cinema and literally expand it by making the take much longer. Secondly, this can involve the risk of failure, an extension in some ways of production problems elevated to the point of metaphysical principle, and in this Sokurov continues questions addressed by Tarkovsky and Herzog. In The Sacrifice, Tarkovsky burnt down the model house but did so only using one camera and the camera jammed. The cinematographer wanted coverage but Tarkovsky wanted the one camera and so the house had to be rebuilt over two weeks and at great expense. Some might insist this is an egomaniacal director refusing to listen to his technical betters and failing to prepare properly for the shot. There will be many such examples of egotism in cinema history but it would be to miss Tarkovsky’s need to see film as a complicated blend of physics and metaphysic: of technical demands and spiritual expectations, ones reflected in the film’s exploration. After all, the central character Alexander burns the house down as a wager: that if he renounces all he loves an impending nuclear holocaust will be averted. This is an act of faith and Tarkovsky matched it by insisting not to cover the shot. His wager failed and perhaps Alexander’s will too, but someone else might say that it worked the second time; that Tarkovsky underwent a trial of faith and eventually God rewarded him. 

   This might seem like nonsense but if it is, it is nonsense of a particular kind, and Herzog’s less religious determination might have seemed no less crazy. In Fitzcarraldo he hauled an actual boat over an actual mountain because he believed the audience needed to believe: it needed the faith in an image that wasn’t false, wasn’t produced out of special effects and models. Again, this could have seemed like megalomania that should have been solved by pragmatic good sense. Yet Herzog was making a film about a dreamer who wished to stage an opera in the middle of the Amazon, and how could he not feel obliged to match the absurdity of character with his own vision? Vitally, why such films remain in our cinematic consciousness, rests not just, or especially, on the difficulty of their shoots, but on the determination of the filmmakers to retain their dream despite costs, contrary perspectives and ignoring assumption that the audience watching the film, knowing that cinema is a medium of artifice, wouldn’t care. The viewer must know on a profound level they are watching more than just the crazy notions of the characters.

    In Sokurov’s case, he wanted, thirdly, “to make a film in a single breath the many different components within the whole concept have to be in accord with each other, all the different parts have to be linked together, and each must flow from the previous part…”(Cinema.Com) These parts in Sokurov’s case are of course linked to history, and it was as though the director wanted to take the idea of history usually seen as discrete, just as shots in cinema are usually forced to be so by the limits of reel length, and show it as dynamic. Rather than seeing the eras of Peter the Great, Catherine the Great and Nicholas the 1st as separate blocs, he sees them as flowing into each other just as the shot can flow from one scene to the next. The fluidity of history is not initself new, and nobody more than Greek director Theo Angelopoulos was fascinated by this flux as he would move characters through more than one moment in time, in films like Ulysses Gaze and Eternity and a Day. Angelopoulos was however shooting on film, and was limited to ten-minute takes; history could be overlapping but it couldn’t quite be sweeping. 

    Fourthly, and finally, Sokurov offers the Aristotelian from one perspective and its antithesis from another. If Aristotle demanded unity of time and space, Sokurov insists more than most on this unity of space as the film is set exclusively in the Hermitage museum, masquerading as the Winter Palace, and then explodes it temporally. We can thus see how complex is Sokurov’s approach to time. If Aristotle could talk of the unity of time and space he was also well aware that there was a further unity in the audience watching the play. Time and space within the play is matched by time and space beyond it. However, Sokurov’s fellow Russian Mikhail Bakhtin famously used the term chronotope to describe how “…spatial and temporal indicators are fused into one carefully thought-out, concrete whole. Time, as it were, thickens, takes on flesh, becomes artistically visible; likewise, space becomes charged and responsive to the movements of time, plot and history. This intersection of axes and fusion of indicators characterises the artistic chronotope.” (‘Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel: Notes toward a Historical Poetic’) Time in Russian Ark thickens indeed, and yet this work which was ‘performed’ as a play yet recorded as a film, shows Sokurov insisting on the tension of the live performance within a work of posterity. 

     When we say posterity, this means no more than that the film offers what Cavell insisted upon; that breach between the time of the filming and the time of the viewing. But this breach is what makes cinema, cinema, at least in an analogue era. But instead of accepting that film is now a digital rather than celluloid medium, Sokurov provocatively and precariously proposes cinema needs, even more, to announce its presence as a complex medium of time. To understand the magnitude of that ambition it isn’t enough to admire the one-take feat itself, but also the ontological and aesthetic considerations behind it. 

© Tony McKibbin

Tony McKibbin Tony McKibbin

Russian Ark

There is an irony at the heart of digital cinema: that it moves from a system based on analogy to one based on abstraction, but remains in its perceptual rather than its technological process a medium of semblance. Few watching a digital film will distinguish it from a celluloid one, while someone can almost always tell the difference between a painting and a photograph. A painting is made by a human hand, often using oil or watercolours, while a film image is made by a recording device and accepts the intervention by the recorder of those images is minimal. Even in celluloid cinema much manipulation took place, with models used, back projection offered and time lapses adopted, but its relationship with a chemical process, its analogous aspect, leaves us assuming, when we see in older films images of Rome, Berlin or New York, the faces of Redford, Stanwyck or John Wayne, that they were pretty much those faces and those cities we were seeing. We still make the same assumption watching these same cities and the faces of the Hollywood "Chrises' - Evans, Hemsworth, Pratt and Pine. But are our eyes deceiving us? For Captain America: The First Avenger, "in order to play the early version of his character, Evans would have had to lose a ton of weight. As Reuters noted, the early Steve was just 90 pounds! Instead of asking Evans to lose (then regain) weight for the role, or use a body double, the producers decided to use CGI." (The List)

Is this animation, and thus closer to painting, or still in the realm of a recording, and thus cinema? It seems the lines will increasingly blur, with Lev Manovich proposing "cinema can no longer be clearly distinguished from animation. It is no longer an indexical media technology but, rather, a sub-genre of painting." (What is Digital Cinema?) But, as he says elsewhere, "digital photographs function in an entirely different way from traditional photographs. Or do they? Shall we accept that digital imaging represents a radical rupture with photography? Is an image, mediated by computer and electronic technology, radically different from an image obtained through a photographic lens and embodied in film?" Manovich adds, "if we describe film-based images using such categories as depth of field, zoom, a shot or montage, what categories should be used to describe digital images? Shall the phenomenon of digital imaging force us to rethink such fundamental concepts as realism or representation?" ('Paradoxes of Digital Photography') However, while this fret has been absorbed smoothly by pragmatic filmmakers who don't care much whether a superhero film will be deemed animation or live action, for others it became an opportunity to insist on the real as extended representation. Sure, the film might be technologically digital, but it remains ontologically analogical.

Thus we can turn to Russian Ark, Alexander Sokurov's one shot-wonder, a film that is 93 minutes long and contains only one single, lengthy take. Instead of taking further the opportunities digital offers to tamper with the image, Sokurov insists he is in a long-take tradition that includes Andrei Tarkovsky, Miklos Jancso, Theo Angelopolous and Michelangelo Antonioni, filmmakers for whom the take became a version of Godard's claim that a tracking shot was a question of morality. This ethos however had technical limits: a reel of film was no more than ten minutes long, so that even such a devotee of the extended take as Jancso would offer even at his most radical a film with a dozen shots. Sokurov wished to reduce it to one and the digital camera made this possible, even if, at the same time, all but impossible. It was technologically achievable but astonishingly demanding. As cameraman Tilman Buttner says, "for a conventional film you have between 40 and 80 days of filming, minimum, it's almost impossible that small mistakes won't happen. I knew that they would have to correct things in post-production since 45 rooms had to be lit in 26 hours, that's why they knew from the beginning that the finest shades of lighting would be difficult to achieve." (IndieWire) Yet whatever post-production tampering (the sound was post-synched and the presence of cables and other things that were in the frame digitally removed), the integrity of the shot remained. There were supposedly four attempts at getting the shot. The first, according to the documentary of its making, In One Breath: Alexander Sokurov's Russian Ark, failed after five minutes, another two were then unsuccessful, leaving them with only enough battery life for one last attempt.

Some might say that by post-synching the sound, and digitally removing inevitable flaws while working with a cast of 186 and 1300 extras, makes the film not quite the one-take work it purports to be. But such a response is churlish and misses the point. What matters is that there is a history of production: that the film demanded the presence of numerous cast members, many technicians, and the use of the Hermitage museum in St Petersburg. Sokurov only had it for one day, and only had four hours of good light to film in. The production was working against the clock and the crew against the possibility that any moment a mistake could be made which would ruin the shot, and thus kill the film. This meant over two thousand people in the frame needed to be choreographed carefully. While it is important not to get lost in the production details when our purpose is to practice critical analysis, nevertheless part of Sokurov's project is surely to insist that even if film is no longer a chemical process, its integrity as a medium rests on its relationship with a reality it cannot simply control. In many a digital production, we have what we can call an absent absence as opposed to the absent presence that Sokurov still demands. In an absent absence, there is no production history as we would usually define it, potentially no actors used, no locations found, nothing that would leave a trace of a production's actual presence in the world. But a film still concerned with an absent present wants this complicated relationship to remain. D. N. Rodowick speaks of Stanley Cavell's comment about the "ontologically restless" and Rodowick says that part of this problem resides in the idea "that things absent in time can be present in space, a paradox of presence and absence that ordinary language has trouble resolving. Rodowick adds, And there is another equally powerful side to this puzzle that film presents to me a world from which I am absent, from which I am necessarily screened by its temporal absence, yet with which I hope to reconnect or rejoin. Here Cavell, along with Gilles Deleuze in recent scholarship, proposes not just an ontology but an ethics of film." (The Virtual Life of Film)

The more film banishes the presence and focuses on the absence, the more it becomes a digital form that no longer has a production history, so more and more ethical questions about film disappear. There will be others to replace them but the sort of issues that interested numerous filmmakers who have been vital to cinema will be foregone. Questions like casting your wife or lover as a character within the diegesis (as Godard, Chabrol and Antonioni did with Anna Karina, Monica Vitti and Stephane Audran), demanding immense physical sacrifices from your actors through endurance, location or transformation, including Robert De Niro in Raging Bull, Shelley Duvall in The Shining, Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now, Leonardo Di Caprio in The Revenant, and Roy Scheider in Sorcerer. This doesn't mean actors ought to suffer for their art (and where often crews are suffering at least as much). However, by using actors and locations, these questions become possible an ethos present. Rely entirely on a digitised process with no actors and no location, and this ethical relationship disappears. On Russian Ark, there would have been immense pressure on especially Buttner but also all of the cast and crew. Whether we believe that an art form should be focused on this type of pressure (and a variation of it is usually much more present in theatre than on film), it gives to cinema a vital relationship with an absent present.

Russian Ark thus has a 'theatrical tension' but within a much vaster mise en scene, and we can think of a couple of moments which are ontologically, restlessly breathtaking, moments that play up the enormous task involved when a one-take shot meets reality. In the first, the central character, a 19th-century French diplomat disdainful of Russian culture, re-enters the palace from the snowy exteriors, and a couple of minutes after that enters a room with hundreds of people awaiting the arrival of the Ambassador for Iran. Many are troops in full uniform, and the French diplomat moves amongst them as Sokurov's semi-voice-over whispers into the diplomat's ear. It is the sort of scene familiar from Jancso, large groups of people choreographed impersonally, but it is a scene within a broader sweep of history than Jancso would usually cover, and we're aware that the cut will not come; that another sequence of monumental scope will soon follow. And so it does, when about twelve minutes later another scene with large groups of people in another huge room, who then go on to dance.

Both scenes are spectacular but they contain within the spectacle an aspect of Cavell's restlessness, what he calls "the phenomenological fact of viewing" (The World Viewed). This is present in Russian Ark as a certain type of wonderment that isn't there obviously in an animated equivalent of the event, nor even a film made up of a series of shots, nor a live event like an opening ceremony, or a coronation. Remember, liveness needn't call into question the temporal problem Rodowick invokes: time and space are united. We are watching an event in the time it is presented. Animation needn't either: we are watching a world on screen that has no separate temporality from our own, no sense in which the characters have passed through time as actors and location have, even if one or the other may be invoked. (Fifties Edinburgh in The Illusionist, for example, or Robin Wright's animated self in The Congress.)

But it is as though Sokurov sought the most complex relationship with time that he could possibly explore, and this needn't only be a technical, virtuoso question. As Sokurov insists when speaking in the documentary of its making: "it's not the one and a half hours without cuts which is the revolutionary way forward for me....For me, something can only be ascribed revolutionary status if the quality of the artistic result merits it." Let us say the demand is fourfold. Firstly, Sokurov wished to emphasise that the digital can still be beholden to the ontological question of cinema and literally expand it by making the take much longer. Secondly, this can involve the risk of failure, an extension in some ways of production problems elevated to the point of metaphysical principle, and in this Sokurov continues questions addressed by Tarkovsky and Herzog. In The Sacrifice, Tarkovsky burnt down the model house but did so only using one camera and the camera jammed. The cinematographer wanted coverage but Tarkovsky wanted the one camera and so the house had to be rebuilt over two weeks and at great expense. Some might insist this is an egomaniacal director refusing to listen to his technical betters and failing to prepare properly for the shot. There will be many such examples of egotism in cinema history but it would be to miss Tarkovsky's need to see film as a complicated blend of physics and metaphysic: of technical demands and spiritual expectations, ones reflected in the film's exploration. After all, the central character Alexander burns the house down as a wager: that if he renounces all he loves an impending nuclear holocaust will be averted. This is an act of faith and Tarkovsky matched it by insisting not to cover the shot. His wager failed and perhaps Alexander's will too, but someone else might say that it worked the second time; that Tarkovsky underwent a trial of faith and eventually God rewarded him.

This might seem like nonsense but if it is, it is nonsense of a particular kind, and Herzog's less religious determination might have seemed no less crazy. In Fitzcarraldo he hauled an actual boat over an actual mountain because he believed the audience needed to believe: it needed the faith in an image that wasn't false, wasn't produced out of special effects and models. Again, this could have seemed like megalomania that should have been solved by pragmatic good sense. Yet Herzog was making a film about a dreamer who wished to stage an opera in the middle of the Amazon, and how could he not feel obliged to match the absurdity of character with his own vision? Vitally, why such films remain in our cinematic consciousness, rests not just, or especially, on the difficulty of their shoots, but on the determination of the filmmakers to retain their dream despite costs, contrary perspectives and ignoring assumption that the audience watching the film, knowing that cinema is a medium of artifice, wouldn't care. The viewer must know on a profound level they are watching more than just the crazy notions of the characters.

In Sokurov's case, he wanted, thirdly, "to make a film in a single breath the many different components within the whole concept have to be in accord with each other, all the different parts have to be linked together, and each must flow from the previous part..."(Cinema.Com) These parts in Sokurov's case are of course linked to history, and it was as though the director wanted to take the idea of history usually seen as discrete, just as shots in cinema are usually forced to be so by the limits of reel length, and show it as dynamic. Rather than seeing the eras of Peter the Great, Catherine the Great and Nicholas the 1st as separate blocs, he sees them as flowing into each other just as the shot can flow from one scene to the next. The fluidity of history is not initself new, and nobody more than Greek director Theo Angelopoulos was fascinated by this flux as he would move characters through more than one moment in time, in films like Ulysses Gaze and Eternity and a Day. Angelopoulos was however shooting on film, and was limited to ten-minute takes; history could be overlapping but it couldn't quite be sweeping.

Fourthly, and finally, Sokurov offers the Aristotelian from one perspective and its antithesis from another. If Aristotle demanded unity of time and space, Sokurov insists more than most on this unity of space as the film is set exclusively in the Hermitage museum, masquerading as the Winter Palace, and then explodes it temporally. We can thus see how complex is Sokurov's approach to time. If Aristotle could talk of the unity of time and space he was also well aware that there was a further unity in the audience watching the play. Time and space within the play is matched by time and space beyond it. However, Sokurov's fellow Russian Mikhail Bakhtin famously used the term chronotope to describe how "...spatial and temporal indicators are fused into one carefully thought-out, concrete whole. Time, as it were, thickens, takes on flesh, becomes artistically visible; likewise, space becomes charged and responsive to the movements of time, plot and history. This intersection of axes and fusion of indicators characterises the artistic chronotope." ('Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel: Notes toward a Historical Poetic') Time in Russian Ark thickens indeed, and yet this work which was 'performed' as a play yet recorded as a film, shows Sokurov insisting on the tension of the live performance within a work of posterity.

When we say posterity, this means no more than that the film offers what Cavell insisted upon; that breach between the time of the filming and the time of the viewing. But this breach is what makes cinema, cinema, at least in an analogue era. But instead of accepting that film is now a digital rather than celluloid medium, Sokurov provocatively and precariously proposes cinema needs, even more, to announce its presence as a complex medium of time. To understand the magnitude of that ambition it isn't enough to admire the one-take feat itself, but also the ontological and aesthetic considerations behind it.


© Tony McKibbin