Katie Hogan’s review published on Letterboxd :
Before there was Victoria, the recent film about a Spanish woman who gets caught up in a heist after a night out, a film that was made in one shot, there was Russian Ark. Filmed in a single 96 minute shot with a steadicam, which was and is grounding breaking. Using over 2,000 actors and 3 live orchestras, the film was shot at the Winter Palace of the Russian State Hermitage Museum, using 33 rooms.
The technical side of the film, planned and the actually filming over power the actual story which there is none. An unamed narrator, presumed to be a ghost and his companion, named 'the European', who he meets by chance wander around the rooms, sometimes interacting with people, sometimes invisible. They observe and comment on the activitives and events, as well as the art, sometimes in great detail. Their travels around the palace/museum takes them through 300 years of history, witnessing historical and fictional people. Ending on a mass exit of everyone leaving the building until the narrator looks outside to see they are surrounded by the sea.
This was not what I expected. I thought that a narrator would pass from room to room observing moments in history but instead, it felt that the narrator was lost and the often rude 'European', meant to be a French traveller, Marquis de Custine, was there to intrude on and criticise the Russian history. At times it was difficult to know who was speaking as everyone's voices mould into each others. The fact that the film was made in a one continuous shot makes the film feel longer that what it actually was, 96 minutes. The film was difficult to follow as imortant moments followed dull ones. It was also odd that there was a narrator and on screen companion.
Feeling less like a narrative film and more like a documentrary, as art was the main subject, with various theories being stated and few close ups of the paintings being discussed. The narrator seems to follow 'the European' around and apologise for his words. What I found interesting was the that 'the European' was dressed in black and along the way, he meets others dressed all in black. Some are in 'costume' while others are dressed in modern clothes. These characters seem the same as our guides, they are lost, but they are lost in the art on the walls. They look and act out of place, making it feel that there are other travellers in time.
For me, it got to a certain point where I was not engaged in what was happening, either due to the characters taking were arguing about art and where they were or that it took ages to move to a new room. I cannot fault the excellent planning and brilliance of the idea as well as the costumes and the musuem itself plays a vital role, but overall it wasn't what I expected and I feel I can only admire the surface of the film and nothing more.