The first movie by Alexander Sokurov I had the opportunity to watch was Russian Ark. Although my lack of knowledge in Russian History made me miss many a point made there, who can really resist the richness of imagery and the technical virtuoso quality displayed by the director? Then I saw “The Sun”, an amazingly sensitive portrait of Japanese Emperor Hiroito in the very end of World War II -a movie which is both an aesthetic and historical tour de force.
Now I have just watched my third Sokurov – Father and Son, a rather unsettling film. In a highly stylized atmosphere involving exclusively pale colours, symbolic dialogues and a patchwork of Tchaikovsky and a bit of everything else for soundtrack, it is the story of motherless family in which father and son are so intimately connected that they have become more or less two sides of the same person: the father is only twenty years older than the son, they share the same job, live at the same house and their lives are more or less stalled by the fact that they have renounced to pursue any other project for the sake of staying together in a kind of eternal adolescence.
In order to portray this almost visceral connection, the director chose to depict their relationship in a particularly physical manner. Because of that, some reviewers said to see a homo-erotic element in the movie, to the disgust of the director. He does have some reason for his rejection of that view, because the storyline does not really allow this kind of interpretation, but truth be said – if someone unaware of the plot were shown the first three minutes, he couldn’t help thinking something like that.
However, this was not an issue to me, but rather the fact that many a Russian film give me the impression of operating on a range of emotion always close to the extreme – while comedy tends to look like slapstick to my eyes, drama tends to turn around the idea of melodrama. Although I am definitely not a specialist in Russian art, when a friend of mine who shares with me the passion for Chekhov plays had the opportunity to see the staging of one of his plays in Russia, she was surprised to discover that the actors had a rather lachrymose acting style which would seem exaggerated in comparison with the kind of Chekhov performance one would find, for instance, in New York or London.
Before you think I am rambling, I was also surprised to see some cute sentimentalism in this of all movies. Although Russian movies are not supposed to need some previous explanation to Western viewers as some movies, say, from China or Africa require, I have the impression this is some kind of “lost in translation” situation involving a different code of expressive gestures in Russian performing arts. You have probably noticed by now that my re:opera page does not feature any review of a Russian opera – and I guess that this lack of understanding of the Russian aesthetical modus operandi might have something to do with that. Before I am accused of prejudice, I make a point on explaining that I don’t see any fault in Russian music or cinema, but rather a fault in myself. But I am always open to learn a bit more and change my mind. In any case, in spite of the occasional strangeness, the movie struck me as original and sensitive. And it was lovely to see a bit of Lisbon again.