When I was a child of the 1940s, my family owned a set of The Book of Knowledge, filled with history and science and art – and pictures of the exotic cultures of the world. Today we seem to know more and admire less, particularly if the foreign country has been an adversary like Russia, and we altogether miss the beauty of such things as The Hermitage.
There are, of course, other enchantments to Russia, including architecture, food and the people themselves, but I am eternally drawn to the museum, now known as the State Hermitage – a series of six buildings along the Neva River in St. Petersburg, including the beautiful Winter Palace, once the residence of the czars. The museum is considered one of the ten most important in the world and houses more than three million major works of art.
Of course I shall never see The Hermitage, but I smile when I recall a 2002 historical film by Russian director Alexander Sokurov entitled Russian Ark. I do not know how well this film has fared with all the changes in technology in the last 14 years, but at the time it was considered a masterpiece and played particularly well as an “art film.”
The movie is a rush to the senses – with thousands of actors representing Russians real and imaginary from various periods in a 300 year history of the city. An unnamed narrator guides the viewer through 33 rooms of the museum and titillates the senses with art and music and palace intrigues – all carefully choreographed in a single, fast-paced camera shot.
You do not have to recognize all – or any – of the characters in the movie; it is enough to immerse yourself in the culture and beauty of the experience. I urge you to see Russian Ark whether or not you are so fortunate as to visit The Hermitage itself.
— Jonnie Martin