(director/writer: Alexander Sokurov; screenwriters: Marina Koreneva/based on the story by Yuri Arabov and Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe; cinematographer: Bruno Delbonnel; editor: Jorg Hauschild; music: Andrey Sigle; cast: Johannes Zeiler (Dr. Faust), Anton Adasinsky (Moneylender), Isolda Dychauk (Margarete), Georg Friedrich (Wagner), Hanna Schgulla (the Moneylender’s Wife), Antje Lewald (Margarete’s Mother), Florian Bruckner (Valentin), Sigurdur Skulasson (Faust’s Father), Maxim Mehmet (Valentin’s Friend); Runtime: 134; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Andrey Sigle; Artificial Eye/PAL format DVD; 2011-Russia-in German with English subtitles)
“Maintains a certain mesmerizing power and a surreal beauty that sticks with you despite making you gag at times at its self-indulgence and impenetrability.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
This is Alexander Sokurov’(“Russian Ark”) final part to his tetralogy of “Moloch,” “Taurus,” and “The Sun,” films about the corruptions of power. This time Sokurov and co-writer Marina Koreneva inventively adapt the story by Yuri Arabov and Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, to give their weird and daring spin on Goethe’s Faustian legend (a classic tale of a man willing to bargain away his soul). It’s a difficult film to enjoy, but one that maintains a certain mesmerizing power and a surreal beauty that sticks with you despite making you gag at times at its self-indulgence and impenetrability.
The impoverished Dr. Faust (Johannes Zeiler), a practitioner of alchemy, is a bored and restless scholar who is turned off by the failed unjust society of material and spiritual suffering he inhabits and is bummed out by mankind’s limits to comprehend the world. Faust lives in a 19th century German village nestled between the mountains and the sea, where he medically fiddles around with corpses to find their souls, that he buys on credit from the local gravediggers. Unable to find the soul and running out of money, the respected doctor treks to the pawn shop of the charmless, foul smelling and repulsive looking Moneylender (Anton Adasinsky), a.k.a. Mephistopheles, and tries unsuccessfully to pawn such things as his valued Philosopher’s Stone. The unappealing Moneylender and the frustrated scholar shoot the breeze opaquely for most of the pic about life and Faust goes on claiming he’s on a life-long quest for knowledge. Things change when Faust improbably kills a rowdy soldier in a barroom brawl and becomes overtaken by lust when meeting his sister, theinaccessible Margarete (Isolda Dychauk). The film is three-quarters over when the fallen Faust, driven by his sexual desires, trades in his eternal soul by signing a contract in blood with the Moneylender so he can spend a night in the sack with Margarete. The pic goes on with more grim philosophizing, existential dilemmas and intense but obscure devil/scholar talk that can put you to sleep before the bargain is signed, sealed and delivered.
I’ll take my Faust via straight Goethe, though I welcome such an imaginative revision of the literary legend because it tries to improve the product that was solidified in cinema by Murnau’s early take on it (a film I enjoyed).
REVIEWED ON 12/3/2013 GRADE: B https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/