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CONFESSION (POVINNOST) (TV)(director/writer: Alexander Sokurov; cinematographer: A. Federov; editor: Leda Semyonova; cast: Serguei Bakai (Commander);Runtime: 210; MPAA Rating: NR; Facets Video; 1998-Russia-in Russian with English subtitles)
Fruitful meditation on despair.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The always creative Russian filmmaker Alexander Sokurov (“Russian Ark”/”Mother and Son”/”Father and Son”) helms an unusual lyrical doc that was filmed for a Russian TV mini-series in five parts.Confession (translates as sense of duty, and might vaguely refer to St. Augustine’s Confessions but with a Russian soul) is a soul-searching epic film on tedium and the human spirit. It covers the mundane life on a Russian battleship while the ship sails the icy waters of the Barents Sea and the ship’s unnamed fictionalized Commander (Serguei Bakai), while standing on the bridge in the often foggy weather, discusses marine life, the thoughtful writings in his diary, his love for Chekhov and the duty of the men to serve their country while offering his fruitful meditation on despair and how the loneliness of life at sea affects him and his conscripted crew.

If you’re not bored to death or put off by its bleakness, this unique film has the ability to capture on film the Russian sense of fatalism that its great writers (with Chekhov, Tolstoy and Dostoevskydepicted as the very pillars of Russian civilization)have captured throughout history in their literature (something only a handful of great films were able to do). It very likely will make the casual film-goer seasick. But for the more hearty adventurers, those looking for something intelligently different from a film, this well-crafted numbing lyrical work on stasis, isolation and depression should be looked upon as a rare opportunity to see the film of a great artist, the replacement of the late Andrei Tarkovsky as Russia’s greatest filmmaker, operate uncensored and in full control of the medium. The b/w pic succeeds despite the lack of plot, action sequences, formidable characters and structure, which should blow away those sticklers believing film must be just narrative.

Its uncompromising in its filmmaking and its acceptance of hopelessness (the ship is a metaphor for life as a prison) as a realistic human condition (similar to Tibetan Buddhism). It also reminds me of Claire Denis’ brilliant Beau Travail in its naturalism and homoerotic underpinnings (without being a gay film, it’s filled with shots of naked virile military men, who sometimes horse around in the shower).


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”