Friday, December 07, 2012

Faust (2011)

RU © 2011. PC: Proline Film. P: Andrey Sigle. D: Aleksandr Sokurov. SC: Aleksandr Sokurov, Marina Koreneva - book: Yuri Arabov - based on the play (Faust [I] 1808) by J.W. von Goethe. DP: Bruno Delbonnel - Camera: Arricam LT, Zeiss Master Prime and Angenieux Optimo Lenses, Arricam ST, Zeiss Master Prime and Angenieux Optimo Lenses - Laboratory: Barrandov Laboratore, Prague, Czech Republic (dailies), Generator Post, Helsinki, Finland (digital intermediate), Technicolor, London, UK (prints) - Film negative format: 35 mm (Kodak Vision3 500T 5219) - Cinematographic process: Digital Intermediate (master format), Spherical (source format) - Printed film format: 35 mm, D-Cinema - Aspect ratio: 1.37:1, 1.85:1 (final scene). Digital colour editing: Peter Doyle. PD: Elena Zhukova. Cost: Lidiya Kryukova. SFX: Kamil Jaffar. VFX: Alexey Goussev - Algous Studio. AN: Benjamin Swiczinsky. M: Andrey Sigle. S: Makar Akhpashev. ED: Jörg Hauschild. Casting: Kristin Diehle. C: Johannes Zeiler (Heinrich Faust), Anton Adasinsky (Moneylender), Isolda Dychauk (Margarete), Georg Friedrich (Wagner), Hanna Schygulla (Moneylender's "Wife"), Antje Lewald (Margarete's Mother), Florian Brückner (Valentin), Sigurður Skúlason (Faust's Father), Maxim Mehmet (Valentin's Friend), Andreas Schmidt (Valentin's Friend), Oliver Bootz (Valentin's Friend), Katrin Filzen (Margarete's Maidservant), Prodromos Antoniadis (Notarius). Studio: Barrandov Studios (Prague). Loc: Czech Republic (Kutná Hora, Ledec nad Sázavou, Lipnice nad Sázavou, Tocnik Castle); Iceland. Deutsche Originalfassung. 140 min. Released by Atlantic Film with English subtitles (n.c.). 2K DCP viewed at Cinema Engel 1, Helsinki, 7 Dec 2012

Synopsis from Wikipedia (English): "Heinrich Faust (Johannes Zeiler) is eaten up by his longing for enlightening. He seeks to understand the very nature of life and how it makes the world go round. Driven by his burning desire for cognition he even unearths corpses and rummages in their guts just to localize the home of the soul."

"While he keeps on telling himself "in the beginning was the word" he gets to know the racketeer Mauricius (Anton Adassinsky, playing a worldly version of Mephistopheles), who eventually contradicts him: "In the beginning was the deed". In spite of being amorphic Mauricius considers himself superhuman. Faust's obscure new friend takes him to the twilight zones of their small town."

"In a bath his attention is caught by the young Margarete (Isolda Dychauk), called Gretchen. Later the two new friends are entangled in a carousal. During a subsequent brawl Faust accidentally kills Gretchen's brother Valentin. Faust becomes obsessed with Gretchen who appears to embody the beauty of blooming life. He indulges himself in thinking that studying her would be reasonable as a part of his research about what makes all the difference between life and death. When the aging Faust has become irreversibly infatuated with Gretchen, Mephistopheles offers him to let him have her."

"Faust cannot resist the idea of spending a night with Gretchen. Yet Mauricius demands nothing less than Faust's soul in return. Faust even has to sign the contract with his own blood. Now living on borrowed time, Faust can hit on Gretchen but he is haunted by penitence and fear. Finally Faust cannot bear Mauricius' nihilistic comments anymore. Overwhelmed with wrath he puts Mauricius down and finds himself lost in the middle of nowhere."

Synopsis from Wikipedia (German): "Eine deutsche Stadt im 19. Jahrhundert: Der Gelehrte Heinrich Faust versucht dem Geheimnis des Lebens auf den Grund zu kommen. Dafür untersucht er mit seinem Famulus Wagner Leichen nach dem Versteck der Seele. Durch finanzielle Schwierigkeiten gezwungen, wendet Faust sich an den alten Wucherer Mauricius Müller, der sich fortan als die Verkörperung des Teufels entpuppt. Dieser verspricht ihm Hilfe, führt Faust aber erst einmal durch die obskure Stadt. Nebenbei verliebt sich der Gelehrte in die junge Wäscherin Margarete. Völlig fasziniert von ihrer Schönheit, glaubt er durch sie den Zusammenhang von Leben und Tod zu verstehen. Während eines Kneipenbesuchs mit Mauricius tötet Faust einen Soldaten, ohne dabei zu wissen, dass es sich um den Bruder Margaretes handelt."

"Am Ende unterschreibt Faust einen sittenlosen Vertrag mit dem teuflischen Pfandleiher, damit er zum Tausch gegen seine eigene Seele eine Nacht mit Margarete verbringen kann. Dabei wird er jedoch von Ängsten und Schmerzen heimgesucht, weshalb er beschließt die nihilistischen Kommentare des Mauricius nicht mehr weiter hinzunehmen. Faust begräbt diesen symbolisch unter einem Steinhaufen und findet sich schließlich mitten im Nirgendwo wieder, mit den Worten: „Dahin! Weiter! Immer weiter!”"

Since the 1970s Aleksandr Sokurov has been embarked on a life-long, personal journey through Russian and Western history and culture. He has created a series of elegies to figures from Chaliapin to Tarkovsky, historical reflections from Lenin to Hirohito, impressions of classic works from Flaubert and Shaw to Dostoyevsky, and views of colossal cultural phenomena like the Eremitage and Faust.

Some of Sokurov's works I have found uniquely moving (starting with The Lonely Voice of Man and the first Elegy), others I have managed to approach on a surface level only. My first acquaintance with Sokurov's Faust belongs to the latter category.

Although linked with Sokurov's historical trilogy Molokh, Telets, and Solntse, it's completely different. The trilogy was produced in an ascetic, minimalistic, extremely reduced style. Faust may be Sokurov's biggest budgeted film, and the production values are visible in the rich-looking account of the epoch. There are elaborate long views and panorama shots, and accurate-looking reconstructions of buildings, vehicles, tools, and clothes, and magnificent scenes shot on location in the Czech Republic and Iceland (perhaps the same waterfalls as in Ridley Scott's Prometheus?). Vermeer and other Dutch masters have been the inspiration for the impressive cinematography and production design. The imagery keeps changing from one sequence to the next. Surprisingly for Sokurov, there are even affinities with the work of Jeunet & Caro, but Sokurov has displayed surrealistic and expressionistic dimensions before in his film adaptations of Heartbreak Hotel and Days of Eclipse. There are colour filters, distorting lenses, and expressions of digital artifice, in a blatant act of distanciation from the Bazinian photochemical film pact with reality and truth. Sokurov's Faust is no Shroud of Turin (but neither was Murnau's Faust, which Sokurov's film at times seems to comment). Sokurov's Faust seems also to have been inspired by the film adaptations of The Student of Prague by Stellan Rye and Henrik Galeen.

This Faust is weird, odd, macabre, mad, eccentric, and restless - perhaps in reflection of the soul of Faust, himself. Even naturalism is included in the film's eclectic range of styles. The film starts with splatter imagery in the account of Faust's activity as a doctor performing autopsy, looking for the secret of the soul in a corpse. There is also pornographic imagery in the vaginal speculum current of the story. The seduction of Gretchen after Faust's pact with the Devil is portrayed in terms of a descent into a slimy river, a central image being das Schamhaar (the German word for pubic hair in literary translation is "shame hair"). After the seduction, monsters appear.

The movie is dedramatized. The great lines of dialogue are recited without emotion. The dramatic turning-points are performed with understatement. The climaxes are played for anticlimaxes.

The film is talkative, and there is a lot of monologue, but the text is not from Goethe. The basic plot is from the Renaissance legend, and the Gretchen story from Goethe. This is the common ground to Gounod and Murnau, among others. There is nothing from "the great world" of Goethe's Faust II here. But there are certain philosophical elements of Goethe's Faust and Mephisto: the reflection on "In the beginning was the word" / "In the beginning was the deed". Mephisto, the spirit of perpetual negation, is "ein Teil von jener Kraft, die stets das Böse will und stets das Gute schafft" [a part of that deep force that always strives for evil, and always manages to create something good].

Memorable features: - Andrey Sigle's score. - The lighting inspired by Dutch masters. - "Life has lost its value." "The word dies before it leaves the pen."- The Icelandic scenes in the conclusion. - "Where are you going?" "There - forward - always forward". - Faust buries Mephisto under the rocks, but Faust has already been thoroughly contaminated. There is no salvation, and salvation is unthinkable in this universe. "Ewige Einsamkeit. Keine Rettung" [Eternal solitude. No salvation].

Faust has been shot on photochemical 35 mm film, but it has been digitally manipulated in an elaborate post-production process. There is no realistic colour, and nature is denatured.

1 comment:

Anton Asikainen said...

A very generous analysis. I had to leave after 25 minutes, I couldn't take in the effect from the distorted lenses. I didn't understand Sokurov's goals in any other respect either. For me, the biggest disappointment of the year.