Film review: Faust (Director: Alexander Sokurov) Be warned: Do not expect Goethe's Faust. While acknowledging the most famous adaptation of the Faust saga and using some lines from Goethe's text, this is entirely Alexander Sokurov's vision. The final instalment of a tetralogy about power (the other parts having featured Hitler, Lenin and Emperor Hirohito), Faust is far removed from the well-known drama about the knowledge-seeking explorer of ultimate truths we have come accustomed to associated with the name. The things this Faust, although a scientist, is looking for, are much more basic. At first he is little more than a hungry beggar trying to get food and money. Later he craves for Margarethe whom he regards as little more than a desired sex partner. There is nothing Faustian about this Faust who believes neither in God nor a soul and has discarded knowledge along with the other two. When he disembowels a corpse in the opening scene, he no longer expects to find anything, he does it out of little more than boredom. And even if he did find something: He wouldn't really care. This is an aimless Faust - and because of it a restless one. He is constantly on the move, less concerned with where he is going than getting away from wherever he is. A driven wanderer, not a determined searcher, frantic, harassed, as if on the run. Sokurov's camera stays with him, mirroring his hectic movements and creating a rhythm very much its own. This not at all metaphysical search is conducted at an ever- increasing speed, threatening to swallow up the protagonist. It begins to slow down when he meets the usurer, a grossly disfigured man who is Sokurov's version of Mephisto. But as Faust is much reduced in grandeur so is the devil's agent, a miserly moneylender and pawnbroker, nothing more. As Faust meets the usurer, the frantic pace eases into something of a ghostly dance as Faust, properly fed, turns his desire on Margarethe. When he succeeds, all comes to a stop: Drenched in angelic light, there is a moment of complete arrest, time stands still, and we just see their faces in total forgetful bliss. But it can't last. And it doesn't. Repeatedly, lines from Goethe's drama are spoken but as the film advances more and more of Faust's words end up uttered - and often ironically altered - by the usurer. They sound hollow at best and are, at worst, exposed as nothing but beautiful nonsense. The meaning we seek - and believe to find - in Faust, it has long departed, if it ever existed. The soulless universe Faust proclaims - Sokurov gives it its face: This is an ugly world, inhabited by ugly or at least strange people - memorable: Hanna Schygulla as the usurer's "wife" - bizarre but unquestioned happenings and no good whatsoever. There is a pale, sometimes blinding light over this universe, shapes get distorted in what appears to be the world of a dream, a nightmare. Who is the dreamer? Faust, the "devil", we? All appearance of any sort of "reality" vanishes after Faust finally succeeds in his wooing of Margarethe. Faust finds himself and the usurer in a barren landscape remnant of Goethe's Faust 2, he meets the dead but there is nobody living. In a final act of childlike defiance he stones the usurer, however, he doesn't die. Faust doesn't need him anymore - they have long been one and the same. As Faust wanders off, he has become an unthinking pleasure seeker, the polar opposite of Goethe's explorer and man of action. Sokurov has created a visual and atmospheric universe very much his own. The images seem covered with a yellow-greenish patina, in their paleness they embody the lifelessness of those dream creatures, those walking dead. Distorted figures and shapes help propel the film more and more into a dream state, yet the world Sokurov conjures up - whether "real" or not - is fully consistent. At times it feels like being inside a Hieronymus Bosch painting, it is a dirty, ugly, primitive, dying world. There may be no other living director who is capable of creating such a distinct and thoroughly convincing vision. Yet this strength is also the weakness of his film. The deliberately placed shock moments, the total refusal to create any believable character, the strict adherence to a counter-reality totally removed from anything we know, helps close this universe hermetically. We may get a glimpse of it but it is like looking from the safe distance at something disgusting. So fascination is replaced by disgust, what first seems like a revelation becomes annoying, and in the end this whole story turns to a modestly shocking horror tale that leaves the viewer cold. What remains, his a visually stunning, almost revolutionary piece of film making that perfectly reflects its subject: it lacks a soul. http://stagescreen.wordpress.com
Drama / Fantasy / Mystery
Drama / Fantasy / Mystery
A despairing scholar sells his soul to Satan in exchange for one night with a beautiful young woman.
May 11, 2020