Employing modest means and
an uncompromising artistic sensibility, Russian filmmaker Aleksandr Sokurov
produces works which address the most profound quandaries of human existence.
Possessed of uncommon vision and a enormous sense of craft, Sokurov and his
screenwriter Iurii Arabov create works which are challenging and substantive,
but which require concentration to appreciate, because of their often
ponderous pacing and minimalist narrative style.
His latest film, Taurus,... is a veiled, imaginatively speculative account of
the last days of Vladimir Lenin. It is the second work in a planned
tetrology of films focusing on the personal side of men in power in the 20th
century. The first film in the series was Moloch, which looked at
the relationship between Hitler and Eva Braun.
The thread that runs through a number of Sokurov's films is a depiction of
one kind or another of deterioration and death. Taurus is no exception, and
the latter themes are explored in a somewhat more direct way than his
previous film, Moloch, as it deals with Lenin's gradual wasting away in
illness. Part of the fascination of the two films is Sokurov's choice of
intriguing times and settings in the lives of the two leaders.
Both films are extrapolations on relative lulls in their subjects'
biographies, but are made somehow subtly dramatic by the intimate situations
depicted. Sokurov sees Lenin as an unfortunate and even incongruous figure.
"He slept through the Revolution," he says. "He really missed out on the
Despite the surface trappings of period detail, like Moloch, the
film does not look at the events from a historical, political or even
exclusively Russian perspective. Accentuating the common human element, it
attempts to evince an ailing man at the twilight of his life whose time at
the forefront has passed, who sees that his well-intentioned ideals will
never be realized, not while he is living, and not after his death.
Despite being lionized in a personality cult among the masses, he has himself
become just about irrelevant in person. The attending staff that take care
of him in his last days treat him either with either perfunctory indifference
or like a child. He anxiously awaits news from Moscow, but the staff phone
rarely rings. His successor, the shade of Stalin (Sergei Razhuk) looks down
upon him, and gives him the symbolic gift of a cane.
The film stars his regular collaborator Leonid Mozgovoi, a highly talented,
chameleon-like actor who played Anton Chekhov in Sokurov's Stone and
Hitler in Moloch. His Lenin is cantankerous and stubborn, wanting
to do everything "himself." Both Sokurov and Mozgovoi have commented on the
relative difficulty of working on this film in relation to Moloch,
since the history explored in this film is much closer to home, literally and
figuratively. Maria Kuznetsova, an actress from the Alexandrinsky Theater,
portrays Nadezhda Krupskaya as a disheveled and earthy woman seemingly
oblivious to Lenin's final concerns.
Taurus was the first film where Sokurov acted as his own cameraman. It is
photographed through an aqua-colored haze, and although there is something of
a pall hanging over the proceedings, the script deftly relieves the woe at
times, with a few well-placed moments of comic relief. The final scene,
where Lenin cries out in despair only to be answered by the mooing of a cow
is particularly poignant and powerful.
A highly personal statement on the pith of contemporary Russian history,
Taurus is quietly engrossing. It will?have its first public viewing
in the West at Cannes this year, to be followed by various other festival
—Kirill Galetski, "Sokurov Takes Intimate Look at Lenin's Last Days"
(St. Petersburg Times, Mar. 2, 2001)
Aleksandr Sokurov was born near Lake Baikal, Siberia, in
1951. From 1969 to 1975 he worked as an assistant director at the Gorky
television studio. He took a history degree at the University of Gorky in
1974 and graduated from the directing department at the All-Union State
Filmmaking Institute (VGIK) in 1978. While at VGIK, Sokurov was one of
the leaders of the student opposition. His thesis film, Lonely Human
Voice (based on the prose of Andrei Platonov) was almost destroyed
by the censor and could be released only in 1987, during perestroika,
along with several other films he had made since 1978. Sokurov has lived
and worked in St. Petersburg (Leningrad) since 1980. He has also worked
in cinema as an actor, and as a sound director on Fellini's And the
Ship Sails On (1983).
|1987||Lonely Human Voice
|1988||Days of the Eclipse
|1989||Save and Protect
|1997||Mother and Son