A towering endurance test that won't endear Russian aesthete Aleksandr Sokurov to anyone other than his hardcore fans, Faust is nevertheless a stylistic achievement too staggering to be petulantly ignored. The legendary myth of the Faustian pact with the Devil is here adapted quite freely (by Mr. Sokurov, his usual screenwriter Yuri Arabov and scholar Marina Koreneva) from Goethe's 19th century two-part play. The tale, spoken in German, is set in an early 19th century German village where Faust (Johannes Zeiler) is a penniless doctor and scholar whose desire the gain the sum of the world's knowledge and the hand of the lovely Margarete (Isolda Dychauk) leads him to enter into a pact with the moneylender Mauricius Müller (Anton Adasinsky), in fact the Devil in disguise.

     Not entirely surprisingly for a story that follows a man willing to do anything for the sake of knowledge (and knowledge is power), Mr. Sokurov places Faust as the final title of a cycle of films about power, following from the "dictator triptych" of Moloch (Hitler), Taurus (Stalin) and The Sun (Hirohito) - though admittedly a more allegorical, ambiguous addition to the cycle, viewing the human side of power here from a more abstract, metaphysical angle. Ever the artist, the director composes each shot as if it were a lovingly executed painting, regularly introducing his trademark distortions and helped no end by Bruno Delbonnel's saturated monochrome lensing (whose colour-graded, diffuse tints change almost seamlessly according to the scene's tone), all the while filling the (Academy sized) frame with action, sound, music, dialogue until the viewer - like Faust himself - is being assaulted by a variety of stimuli he must either surrender to or rise above.

     Faust is as abstract and opaque in its structure and meaning as most of Mr. Sokurov's previous works, only much less lyrical and taken to a point of no return of baroque, surreally grotesque pantomime, brutalist in its demand for the viewer to submit to its Gesamtkunstwerk approach, where every single element, fed into its paroxystic, quasi-hysterical overload of information, becomes indelible from the whole. More than Goethe's Faust, then, this is indeed "Sokurov's Faust", an object that seems calculated to ellicit any number of strong opinions while maintaining its true nature known only to its maker.

Cast: Johannes Zeiler, Anton Adasinsky, Isolda Dychauk, Georg Friedrich, Hanna Schygulla, Sigur∂ur Skulásson
Director: Aleksandr Sokurov
Screenplay: Yuri Arabov, Mr. Sokurov, Marina Koreneva, based on the play Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Cinematography: Bruno Delbonnel  (colour)
Music: Andrei Sigle
Designer: Elena Zhukova
Costumes: Lidia Krukova
Editor: Jörg Hauschild
Producer: Mr. Sigle  (Pro-Line Film)
Russia, 2011, 134 minutes

Screened: DVD, Lisbon, April 7th 2013


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