8:00 PM, 12th March, 2004
This remarkable picture takes us on a journey through the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. Each room visited offers us a different experience: we are invited to a grandiose diplomatic ceremony; we are enticed to dance with multitudes. And the individuals we encounter on our peregrination range from the significant and famous to the enigmatic and obscure. Russian Ark is an extraordinary technical accomplishment. The entire film is shot - incredibly - in one uninterrupted take, overcoming significant lighting challenges, and managing to choreograph scores of actors and even the performance of an orchestra. Yet it is hard to deny that this is also a beautiful artistic achievement. Director Aleksandr Sokurov has drawn inspiration for his scenes from the mise en scene of the room: as an audience, we are enthralled because we never know who or what is going to be in the next chamber. Some scenes do play out a little lengthily, and the pace of the film is certainly luxurious; but I suggest that dull moments are very few indeed. This is a unique creation, unlikely to appeal to all tastes. But I can assure anyone attracted to difference that there won't be another film like this one this semester.
9:00 PM, 12th March, 2004
On St Valentines Day in 1900, a group of girls at a strict boarding school went on a picnic to Hanging Rock in country Victoria. While enjoying an afternoon ramble, three of the girls and one teacher disappeared without a trace. Such is the premise for one of Peter Weir's (Master and Commander, The Truman Show) best films. Based on a novel, the mystery of what happened to the girls and their teacher was never solved. The fact that one of the girls re-appeared a week later with no shoes, but no marks on her feet, and (strangest of all) no memory of what had happened only added to the mystery.
The film captures both the hothouse atmosphere of the boarding school, where strict rules repress feelings until they explode as hysteria, and also the ancient landscape, a menacing yet indifferent presence which cares nothing for the fates of those scuttling across it.
With a cast of well known Australian actors and a haunting soundtrack, this is a film that will linger in your memory.