Thursday, January 9, 2014

Faust (orig. фауст) [2012]

MPAA (NR would be R)  ChicagoTribune (3 Stars) (3 Stars)  AVClub (A)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing listing*  reviewnews coverage*

ChicagoTribune M. Phillips) review (G. Cheshire) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review

Faust (orig. фауст) [2012] [IMDb] []* (directed and cowritten by Aleksandr Sokurov [IMDb] []*, screenplay by Yuri Arabov* [IMDb] []* based on the Faust legend popularized by late 18th-early 19th century German playwright Johann Wolfgang Goethe [IMDb]) is a serious, award winning film -- it won the Golden Lion for Best Film at the 2012 Venice Film Festival as well as four Nika (Russian Academy) Awards among them for Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Screenplay) and was nominated for four others (Best Costume, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography and Best Music) -- by a serious award winning Russian director.  It played recently at the Music Box theater here in Chicago.

The film (played in German with English subtitles) set in a nondescript German village of the late-18th century is to be understood as the capstone (part 4) of a four part reflection on POWER which included three previous Sokurov-Arabov collaborations -- Moloch (orig. Mолох) [1999] [IMDb] []* (about Adolf Hitler [IMDb] and "a weekend with friends" at this mountain retreat in Biertesgarten a few months before the beginning of the fateful battle at Stalingrad), Taurus (orig. Телец) [2001]* [IMDb] []* (about a "day near the end of the life" of V.I. Lenin [IMDb] where he finds himself impotent and marginalized at his own "dacha" (country retreat) wishing for death), and The Sun (orig. Солнце) [2005]* [IMDb] []* (about the Japanese Emperor Hirohito [IMDb] musing with the conquering American general MacArthur [IMDb] about the origins of the War that had just ended and his (the Emperor's) personal failings, even as he had been worshiped as a "living god").

Needless to say, Faust (orig. фауст) [2012] [IMDb] []* along with Sokurov-Arabov's other collaborations is pretty dense stuff!

And it is certainly key to note that while Hitler [IMDb], Lenin [IMDb] and Hirohito [IMDb] were all despotic/totalitarian historical figures of the 20th century, Faust [IMDb] is, of course, a legendary one, and one who predated the others by several hundred years.  Yet, Faust [IMDb] is, of course, the legendary figure who "made a deal with the Devil" ...

So who then is Sokurov-Arabov's Faust [IMDb] (played in the film by Johannes Zeiler [IMDb])?  And how does he compare with the three 20th century (at least for a while) "living Gods"?   He is portrayed right from the beginning film as one who is obsessed with the acquisition of knowledge even if his methods shock/offend the people around him: The film begins with him performing (in his barn) a horrific 18th-century autopsy of a human corpse that he had dug-up (presumably without anyone's permission) from the village's graveyard.  The tools that he uses are basically 18th century farm and kitchen implements and he cuts off the genitals of the corpse (PARENTS take note ... this would DEFINITELY be an R-rated film) like one would cut-off a piece of sausage.  The scene is intended to shock ... and it does ... both the villagers who (quite understandably) look at him as Nuts/Evil ... and probably viewers of the film who honestly may not have expected such a grotesque beginning to the story.

But it becomes rather clear that Sokurov-Arabov's Faust [IMDb] does not give a damn what the villagers think of him as he dismisses them as "backward."  Well, his behavior, of course, attracts the attention of a "kindred spirit" ... the Devil, personified as a very slimy-looking moneylender (played by Anton Adansinsky [IMDb] []*).

Now initially Sokurov-Arabov's Faust [IMDb] dismisses the Devil himself as he has no use for him either.  Alas, however, raw "Power" / "Knowledge" don't seem to be enough (a seemingly common theme if one compares this film to the three others) as Sokurov-Arabov's Faust [IMDb] begins to long for "personal fulfillment" / "companionship" ... in the form of a village girl ... named ... Margarite (in the original legend, Gretchen) (played in the film by Isolda Dychauk [IMDb]).  IT IS FOR HER interest/companionship that he "sells his soul to the Devil."  But in this version, there honestly remains a question: Who's stronger throughout (even after he "sells his soul" to him...) the Devil or Faust.

In abstract, the adaptation here is interesting enough.  Further, due to my Central/East European background, I find myself having a certain disconcerting "attraction" to LENGTHY (and to almost everyone else outside of my background BURDENSOME) reflections on "the nature of Power" (and its abuse...).

However, I have to say that I found this film both very DENSE and AESTHETICALLY UGLY -- a combination of DENSE SOVIET-ERA (perhaps "good"/"best of" Soviet Era) ALLEGORY and a GERMANIC FASCINATION WITH THE GROTESQUE.  Add to this the film seemed unending ... well over 2 hours (and twenty minutes) long.

I'll grant the film (as the Czechs would call it) "Velkodil" (Great Work) status.  And I've since looked-up Sokurov-Arabov's other films (Moloch and The Sun).  Now where would one find them?  Well, in Chicago / the U.S. through Facets Multimedia ;-).  But my both Czech and American sensibility (both apparently lighter than German / Russian sensibilities) really could have done without the grave-robbing, the incessant half-congealed black/red blood and the genital mutilations).  I do get it, these graphics did add to the film, but the film's incessant "icky-ness" just went ON AND ON ...

Yes, the power-mongers of the last century were really sick S.O.B.s ... and I suppose I'm happy I saw this film, but I would never, ever want to see it again ;-).  But then, that's, in good part, the point ;-).  We'd probably _not_ want to see ANY OF THESE CHARACTERS again ;-). 

* Foreign language webpages are most easily translated using Google's Chrome Browser. 

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