WHISPERING PAGES (Aleksandr Sokurov, 1993)

The following is one of the entries from my 100 Greatest Films from the Soviet Union, Russia, Ukraine and Eastern Europe list, which I invite you to visit on this site if you haven’t already done so. — Dennis

Tikhiye stranitsy, which is called Whispering Pages in the U.S., translates more accurately as Silent Pages. Anticipating his Russian Ark (2002), Aleksandr Sokurov’s beauteous film journeys into the cavernous Russian soul, this time by way of literature rather than history: primarily, Dostoievski’s Crime and Punishment, scenes from which settle into the context of a peripatetic Raskolnikov (Aleksandr Cherednik, wonderful), weaving in and out of street crowds, boisterous and turbulent humanity, that appear from nowhere, a troubled dreamer slowly making his way at night through an impoverished, dilapidated part of a mid-nineteenth century city situated on lapping water that perpetually suggests the unconscious. The final encounter between him and Sonia, a Bergmanian two-shot in which the boy with fleeting poignancy smiles this one time, pierces.
     With Mother and Son (1997), this may be Sokurov’s most poetic, most humane and moving film. Slow pans and tracking shots create with their aura of deliberateness ironic tension with the boy’s lostness and apparent aimlessness, his suspension in a place both in and out of time. The film flows imperceptibly back and forth between black and white and a trace of color, with at least two stunning bursts of Turneresque lighting—one of the visual methods that the film employs to suggest a hovering spiritual presence poised to redeem the boy if only he will notice it as we do. Sokurov creates such long takes, measured and fluent, here, static, more often in motion, that when a cut arrives the bewitched viewer isn’t certain what has come and gone—whether there even was a cut. Watching this film, we also become a dreamer. Its silent pages whisper to us.
     This is a moody, entrancing, melancholy piece of work attuned to sung bursts of Mahler and Raskolnikov’s endless youth.

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