The guild of Russian film critics called Alexander Sokurov‘s “Faust” the best film of the year of 2012. Alexander Sokurov won best director and his film received two other nominations. Yuri Arabov won best scriptwriter (for adaptation of Goethe’s play ) and Anton Adasinsky(Mephistopheles) was nominated for best supporting actor.
There are some films that make you cry, there are some films that make you laugh, there are some films that change you forever after you watch them; and this is one of these films.
I want to provide you several details that I found on the Internet that can partly answer the question:
Why Sokurov’s “Faust” is so great?
In fact, “Faust” is an example of successful international co-production. The film was shot mostly in the Czech Republic in original German language with German leading actors. I would note the great choice of actors: Johannes Zeiler (Faust), Isolda Dychauk (Margarete), Georg Freidrich (Wagner) and director of Photography – Bruno Delbonnel known for Amelie (2001), Across the Universe (2007) and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)
A part of tetralogy
Alexander Sokurov sees “Faust” as a last part of his tetralogy: “Molot” – “Taurus” – “Sun” – “Faust” with a main theme of overarching power:
The focus of his attention in previous parts were real historical figures who were responsible for establishing terror: Lenin, Hitler, Japanese Emperor Hirohito and Faust in last part as an incipience of this power in civilization:
In an interview to Russian portal Open Space Sokurov said:
In my tetralogy I wanted to touch on all shapes of violent power that has a heavy, destructive impact on European civilization.
Why Goethe then?
Goethe did his research on European civilization, he already knew all of this and expressed it in his “Faust”. – Open Space
In “Faust” Goethe expressed something that many European minds were searching for at that time: the possibilities of human knowledge with its wish to go beyond the boundaries. An eternal dualism of body and soul with its constant confrontation and dissatisfaction.
However, Sokurov never had the goal to adapt the greatest Goethe’s masterpiece for the screen. Sokurov and Arabov freely used motives from the first quarter of Goethe’s play “Margarete”, the part mainly devoted to the Faust’s love towards Margarete. Scriptwriters added some elements to Goethe’s text (story lines, some scenes) complementing the main story with nuances and new decisions. By doing this, they got their version of “Faust” reconstructed from the atmosphere of medieval European legend with rich cinematic detail.
Gregory Kust, a film critic from Russian source kinopoisk wrote:
The world that Sokurov created on the screen seems to be tangible and palpable. He could create a legendary reality and give more place for irrationality than Tolkien’s Middle-Earth.
How Sokurov-director creates this type of reality?
He emphasizes the strangeness of the reality in the Middle Ages. If you watch the film, you will notice his portraits of strange medical procedures (stretching) in great detail.
I can recall a woman who gave birth to an egg, one of many, or the bath scene where we see Mephistopheles naked and his body a shapeless clot of flesh with tiny dangling genitalia in place of the tail.
According to Gregory Kust, one of the main visual principles of the movie is to construct a small living Medieval town in which all characters live in.
Awkwardness, clumsiness are everywhere (surprisingly combined with visual plastics). All characters fall down on each other, touch, hug each other ( if there is a narrow door they would definitely squeeze together), they roll, push, bite… This type of tactile sensation, raised here to the existential level.
At the same time on compositional level, color choice, geometry… this movie is perfect and might be used as an encyclopedia for a young cameraman.
To sum up, Sokurov knows how to create non-trivial techniques that create such a strange but visually astonishing and aesthetically valuable cinemtic reality.
If the goal of art is to create new forms of the universe then this film is art.
Interesting facts from Russian Wikipedia:
1) At the premiere of the film in St. Petersburg in the Philharmonic Hall the projection equipment mysteriously refused to play several times. It took about an hour to replace the battery then suddenly burned. The incident was attributed to a theme of a film: it presents a Mephistopheles.
2) The last scene of the movie was filmed at a glacier in Iceland. The glacier was destroyed immediately after by the eruption of the famous volcano Eyjafjallajökull.
3) In a small town in the Czech Republic the crew built several medieval streets as decorations for the film. After shooting was done, the mayor sent a letter to the producer with a request to leave the buildings for the city’s beautification. Some of the buildings have been preserved for tourism.
4) The shooting schedule was 32 days, which is extremely restricted for a film of this type. Such speed says a lot about the high professionalism of the entire crew.