Well, dang. This turned out to be pretty exquisite. Spectacular and exquisite, a rare combination. So rare, in fact, that — due to its categorical internal contradiction, bewitching as Russell’s Paradox — the feat had previously been accomplished maybe four other times in cinematic history (Days of Heaven, Wings of DesireThe Wizard of Oz, and I Am Cuba).* But I shouldn’t have felt so surprised, having adored Sokurov’s earlier Mother and Son, the thrilling, almost demented weirdness of it. I’ve been at least nervously impressed by a couple of others. He’s a little like Greenaway and a little like his teacher Tarkovsky: when something feels basically completely off the rails, your instinct is — wisely for the most part — to blame yourself.

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I Am Cuba, Poster, 1964

Russian Ark is of course famous — or notorious? — for its being a single 96-minute take that had to be rehearsed for six months prior to shooting and after which cinematographer Tilman Büttner underwent extensive physical therapy for ligament damage. (Maneuvering the hand-held, specially adapted Sony HDW-F900 for an hour and a half — without pausing — literally put him in the hospital.) So, as with Kalatozov’s I Am Cuba (1964), whose similarly absurd, and equally legendary, ultra-long tracking shot defies belief, you can’t help but worry that you’re going to get high-achieving bravura at the cost of subtlety, or intelligence. Worrying for nothing!

* As you will have guessed, I just made up that list off the top of my head, more or less at the speed of typing. There may be, must be, others — NapoléonFanny and AlexanderThe Battleship Potemkin? Myself, I would never include Citizen Kane, which, though both bombastic and subtle, the twin exclusionary properties of such cinema, isn’t even in my top five Welles pitchers. Sleeping BeautyThe Life and Death of Colonel Blimp? …