18 November 2009

The Sun

Directed by: Aleksandr Sokurov
Written by: Yuri Arabov & Jeremy Noble
Full credits from IMDb

Alexander Sokurov is hard to love because many of his movies are so unapologetically Russian: Unlike many festival-circuit darlings, he's less concerned with making movies for the Cannes-noscenti than for his own countrymen. Of course, the director will always occupy a tender spot in the hearts of cinephiles everywhere for 2002's Russian Ark, which was not only shot in one take (the first such feature film; Rope doesn't count because poor Hitchcock had to change reels every 12 minutes), but in a single glorious, outrageous, complexly choreographed, epically DeMillian one. But that film, like Alexandra, which opened in New York six years later, proves somewhat esoteric, content-wise, for U.S. audiences not steeped in Kremlinology and Russo-social history. In contrast to a movie like Michael Haneke's upcoming The White Ribbon, whose historically specific message and moral can be reapplied to other cultures and time periods, the aforementioned Sokurov movies are political films that address a particular time, place and people. Their themes don't quite translate across regional boundaries.

But in his latest, The Sun (Solntse), the director turns his attention eastward to nearby Japan, ca. 1945, a promising development as investigations of Nihonese yesteryears don't feel as culturally hermetic as a walk through the Hermitage; WWII history is more familiar than that of the Bolshevik and Chechen Revolutions. The depiction of a declared deity doubting his divinity in defeat involves an element of universal understanding—humans have narrated the fall of kings since at least Ancient Greece—that's lacking from the chronicle of a tough and tender babushka's peregrinations through the rubble of Nokhchiin.

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