I am not a huge fan of Alexander Sokurov, but when I saw this in Toronto last September, I was aware that I was watching a film that might be considered a semi-masterpiece, if such a thing exists. I don't know if it's going to be everyone's cup of tea, but it's certainly an extraordinary film. Most people know the story of Faust – it's been told often enough over the last few hundred years. In this case, the story is set in Germany at some unspecified period, which may be the 19th Century. Faustus is a philosopher/doctor desperate to find the seat of the soul in man, going so far as to excavate the inside of corpses in an attempt to locate it. He meets the weird and rather creepy Mephistopheles, who seems more like a malevolent leprechaun than a functioning human, and falls in love with a young woman called Gretchen. His new unfriend offers him the opportunity to possess her in return for Faust's soul, to which the infatuated man agrees.
Mind you, this outline of the plot gives no indication of the nature of the film. Even if you've seen the plays by Goethe or Marlowe, you ain't seen nothing yet. Sokurov's Faust combines visual majesty with verbal diarhhoea, with a constant babbling of voices which are both distracting and suggestive. Furthermore, the film is long, confusing and only semi-articulate. And yet it has a quality of vision and originality that ensures you cannot ignore it. The mood, the setting, and some of the compositions are simply extraordinary. It seems unlikely that many people will get to see the film – it lacks even the commercial potential of Once Upon A Time In Anatolia – but if we complain about films like Battleship, we should remember that a film like Faust is also in the public domain.
By Phil Raby
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