Elegy of a Voyage

(Aleksandr Sokurov, Russia/France, 2001)


There is perhaps no other living filmmaker whose work reveals the difference between dramatic and lyric in cinema better than Aleksandr Sokurov (Mother and Son, 1996).

His films and videos exist less to tell stories – although there is usually the thread of some plot or situation – than to expand a moment in time, a sense of place, or an emotion, often to epic duration.

Throughout his career, his video elegies series has taken this lyrical impulse to its extreme, achieving a new height in contemplative art. Sokurov assumes all the rewards and risks of a high art position in contemporary cinema, disdainful of any postmodern rapprochement with pop culture, and dismissive of all industrial, economic norms.

Elegy of a Voyage, commissioned by the Boijmans Van Beunigen Museum in Rotterdam, is Sokoruv’s meditation on classic painting, specifically Breughel’s The Tower of Babel. The journey of the title is the one that brings him into the painting’s holy presence.

Yet Sokurov fashions not a travel documentary but a suspended, dreamlike, disembodied drift through landscapes, an ambiguous first-person camera-eye buttressed by whispered thoughts and visual impressions of weather and movement that often suggest a wholly imagined reverie.

Elegy of a Voyage, at forty-seven minutes, is a compact presentation of the singular poetic universe of Aleksandr Sokurov.

MORE Sokurov: Father and Son, Moloch

© Adrian Martin June 2002

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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