He is one of the most important and influential filmmakers of our time. In 1990 he first attracted international attention with “Sovetskaja elegija”, for which he won the Grand Prize at Oberhausen; he went on to win a number of awards for feature films such as “Moloch” (1999) or “Russian Ark” (2002). The Festival now offers a rare opportunity to get to know Sokurov's extensive early short film oeuvre: documentary works in which the boundaries between fiction and essay are blurred, which examine the relationship between individual and power, which deal with recent history in long shots and rich poetic imagery.
Eleven DCPs, produced especially for the 2019 Festival, are now available for non-commercial distribution in the Oberhausen catalogue. The Festival supplies the copies without performance rights and provides up-to-date contact information for the respective rights holders.
1987/2019, Russian with English subtitles, 32’
Empire is based on the famous radio drama “Sorry, Wrong Number” by the American writer Lucille Fletcher. Sokurov draws on a single theme forming the background for the story of the thriller, the woman's illness. The heroine is bed–ridden and her only means of communication with the outside world is her telephone — until a killer interrupts the conversation…
Duhovnye golosa (Spiritual Voices)
1995/2019, Russian with English subtitles, 327’
An artist’s diary about men during war: documentary footage showing Russian soldiers at the Tajik-Afghan border that becomes a meditation about a fragile situation. Borderline experience between the discontinued private life in the remote home country and the nearness of death in the brooding heat of the mountains. National defence as an eternal task and everyday routine. Waiting for a lucky year in 1995.
Elegija iz Rossii (Elegy from Russia)
1992/2019, Russian with English subtitles, 68’
Russia between the turn of the century and World War One. Pictures and everyday sounds from different times merge to form a dream-like entity. The past seems as close as that which is to come. Sleep divides perception into states of reflection and physically experienceable present. Life time and historical time become one figure; only the individual crosses the border between sleep and death.
Primer intonacii (An Example of Intonation)
1991/2019, Russian with English subtitles, 48’
This is the second film Sokurov has made with Boris Yeltsin. Now Yeltsin is Russia’s first democratic president. Conversation between the two men seems in-timate and on an equal footing. Sokurov carefully hedges in his protagonist. His house, his family, his armchair. ‘Do you feel old?’ Yeltsin is not shown as a model, but as an example of someone trying to find his own pitch.
Prostaja elegija (A Simple Elegy)
1990/2019, no text, 20’
The film gives exact specifications. It was made on May 21, 1990, from 1:51 pm to 2:06 pm in the office of the chairman of the Supreme Soviet of Lithuania, Vy-tautas Landsbergis. The Soviet republic had declared its independence from the Soviet Union a few weeks before, as the first republic to do so. Its new chairman is a man of culture. In two sequence shots, Sokurov measures out the aesthetic transformation of the political space in real time.
Razžalovannyi (The Degraded)
1980/2019, Russian with English subtitles, 31’
‘Our story is about a strange and exceptional person who starts a new life after being demoted from his civil service job. On the one hand, a whole host of previous problems drags on him; on the other, he perceives an inner rebirth – not yet consciously and not understanding its consequences.‘ Sokurov in a letter to the main actor, Ilya Rivin.
Robert. Sčastlivaja žizn‘ (Robert. A Fortunate Life)
1996/2019, Russian with English subtitles, 26’
Hubert Robert, a French painter of the 18th century, was friendly by nature and loved by all. He painted huge pictures of ruins in landscapes and was in perfect harmony with the ideals of his time and the wishes of his clients. This film was com-missioned by the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. Sokurov chose the pictures by this fortunate man from among its countless art treasures.
Soldatskij son (The Sleep of a Soldier)
1995/2019, no text, 12’
This excerpt from the third part of ‘Spiritual Voices’ is conceived as a short film in its own right and reduces the borderline experience between life and death to a single image: soldiers who are sleeping. A soldier lies on a field in the mined area on the Tajik-Afghan border. Exhausted from being on duty, he sleeps in the open air, wrapped in a heavy coat.
Sonata dlja Gitlera (Sonata for Hitler)
1977-88/2019, no text, 11’
Hands play the main role in this found-footage film. They work and rest, gesticulate, tease, stretch out fanatically in a salute. Adolf Hitler rubs his helplessly. The film refers to Michail Romm’s ‘Ordinary Fascism’, but gives the German newsreel material a psychological twist. Hitler and Stalin’s years of existence frame the images of destructive gestures and create an archival order.
Terpenie trud (Patience Labour)
1985-87/2019, Russian with English subtitles, 10’
‘Patience and hard work will overcome all.’ The film title refers to a Russian proverb to this effect. But Sokurov leaves out the ‘and’ in the title and tells, in rapidly edited images, about how professional ice skaters inflict a huge strain on their bodies and lives to achieve top form. Enough to make one dizzy. A commis-sioned work that did not please initially.
Vostočnaja elegija (Oriental Elegy)
1996/2019, Russian with English subtitles, 45’
The first of a series of films made in Japan. An island, a forest; houses gradually become visible behind wafts of mist. The narra-tor’s voice cautiously takes up contact with their ghostly residents, who seem woven into the dense materiality of the timeless place. Yearning for happiness, for belonging. Sokurov has many questions for the painting-like figures, who answer him candidly.