By Yelena Andrusenko
After the Moscow and St. Petersburg premieres, Alexander Sokurov’s film “Faust”, which earned him the Golden Lion in Venice this autumn, is hitting movie screens across Russia. In Moscow, it plays in 40 venues, drawing huge crowds contrary to the expectations of Sokurov, who was skeptical that “Faust” would ever get a big screen run in Russia and who earlier said in an interview that perhaps Russia did not need his films at all.
“Faust” is the fourth film in Sokurov’s tetralogy about 20th -century rulers, which also includes “Taurus” about Vladimir Lenin, “Moloch” about Adolf Hitler and “The Sun” about Japan’s Emperor Hirohito.
Based on Goethe’s famous drama, Sokurov’s “Faust” focuses on the relationship between a scientist, who craves knowledge and power, and the Satan, who is shown as a pawnbroker. The film is in German with a Russian voiceover done by Sokurov himself.
Scriptwriter Yuri Arabov thinks both the philosophic message and stylistics of “Faust” could prove too complicated for the average viewer.
“The film doesn’t, in principle, change anything. There are several thousand people in Russia, or maybe several tens of thousands, who follow and watch Sokurov’s films. And I feel great responsibility to those people, who appreciate what we have been trying to do and say. Such films should screen in special art theaters for special, advanced audiences”.
Writer Nikolai Kofyrin has held a blitz poll among “Faust” viewers. Asked which of Sokurov’s films they liked most, the majority of them said “all”. Reactions to “Faust” ranged from admiration to complete rejection. One viewer said: “I am not sufficiently educated to understand all the things Sokurov meant to say, but this is my own drawback, not Sokurov’s”. Another viewer described it as a “fresco painted by a great artist”. Still others said that the film was overly dark and sinister with not a streak of light.
The finale sparked the greatest controversy. Sukorov threw out the traditional finale in which Faust beats the devil, or allegorically, defeats the evil, says Yuri Arabov:
“Instead, Sokurov showed a tiny devil being pelted with giant stones. Compared to the evil incarnated in Faust, the devil looks like a fleck of dust on the cultural and mythological stage. And suddenly I realized that we made a film about a breakup between modern man and metaphysics as such. Compared to medieval people or people of the Renaissance, we are just a flat sheet of paper, because when we completely break away from metaphysics, we lose our spiritual essence. We may position ourselves as humanists or as Orthodox Christians. But our hearts are empty and devoid of love. I made a script about how a man tempts the devil, or pawnbroker, how the pawnbroker cooperates with the man, how the notions of duty and kindness change, and how, by striking a deal, the man betrays those notions. As long as the world is divided into the good and the evil, mankind is doomed to live with the Faust syndrome”.