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Film Review: Alexandr Sukorov’s Faust is Eerie and Magnificent, Critics Agree

Posted on the 11 May 2012 by Periscope @periscopepost
Adasinsky and Zeiler in Faust

Adasinsky and Zeiler in Faust. Photocredit: Publicity still

The background

Aleksandr Sokurov’s Faust won the Venice Golden Lion in 2011. The film is shot in German, and is based on Goethe’s Faust Part One (published in 1808). Sokurov has directed Moloch, Taurus and The Sun, about Hitler, Lenin and Emperor Hirohito respectively. The film is taken out of its literary context, and set into a historical period. Mephistopheles is played by Anton Adasinsky as a moneylender called Muller. Margarete (Goethe’s Gretchen) is played by Isolda Ychauk. The main part of Faust is Johannes Zeiler; he enters into a deal with Muller to gain everything he could wish for – but at a high price: his soul. Critics agree that though the film is difficult, its rewards are worth it.

“Goethe believed that earthly life was a mirror image, finite and partial, of eternal truth, so Sokurov starts the film – stunningly – with a giant mirror suspended in the skies,” said Nigel Andrews in The FT.

Rude, lewd and irresistible

Faust “comes roaring into view, shaking its glorious mane,” said Nigel Andrews in The Financial Times. Sokurov presents Faust as “an antic authorial alter ego, seeking fame and lucre through destructive self-assertion.” It’s number four in Sokurov’s “tetralogy on the nature of power.” Adasinsky is “surreal and satanic,” with “rear-placed genitals,” “carrying on as a real-deal demon trading in the world.” Zeiler “looks like Ralph Fiennes after several nights on the town.” The film is “rude, lewd” and “irresistible”, the action “like some fugitive, glittering, mercurial reflection of reality.” It leaves us panting with its “bustle of macabre and farcical science and pseudoscience.” Ultimately, “[i]f the film were any madder it would be locked up.”

Adasinsky excels

The film “revels in ugliness,” said Wendy Ide in The Times, belonging to “that sector of arthouse cinema which is both artistically admirable and a seat-squirming ordeal to watch.” You feel a bit madder having left. “Toothless crones cackle, arguments rage just out of shot; a tide of boozing carousers surges and weaves in the background.” It’s all very “disorientating” – which is no bad thing. Adasinsky’s performance as a “grotesque clown” drives the “rotten heart of the film.” He’s “brilliant: a monstrous ringmaster for Sokurov’s circus of depravity.”

Part bad-dream, part music-less opera

By linking Faust with three historical figures, Sokurov adds value to the discussion of “power, destiny, heaven and hell,” said Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian. “Sokurov’s signature visual style is present,” with “sepia-soft cinematography.” The dialog has been overdubbed in the studio, with an “aural effect” that is “unique to Sokurov” – which Bradshaw is “agnostic about.” It’s “certainly distinctive,” and emphasises “the centrality of Faust’s consciousness – and his loneliness.” It’s “part bad dream, part music-less opera,” and moves in “an eerie trance of disgust.”

Keep going

The Russian Film blog said that though critics were split over the film, it’s lost “little of its enigmatic zeal” having made its way to London. It’s still “one of the most mesmeric, hypnotic cinematic experiences” of the last year. Don’t be disheartened or overwhelmed – if you persist with it, you’ll be “richly rewarded.”

Watch the trailer


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