For long stretches Alexander Sokurov's fever dream about 19th-century Russia (1994) doesn't register as a narrative at all, though its layered visual textures and immense cavernous spaces are so enthralling you can lose yourself in the meditative drift, Dantean visions, and endless urban catacombs. There are passages where you can't even be sure what you're watching, whether it's an interior or an exterior, in color or black and white; then gradually slow dissolves, light changes, or other transitions reveal the details of the awesome grottolike images. Despite these experimental aspects, there is a plot of sorts, consisting mainly of undigested chunks of Crime and Punishment, served up with Sokurov's customary humorless reactionary pretensions. Happily these function mainly as passing interludes. (The film is purportedly derived from other Russian literature classics as well, including works by Gogol, but I couldn't detect them.) It's the only film I've seen by this lugubrious Tarkovsky disciple that profits from second viewing, thanks to its kaleidoscopic, painterly pleasures.
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