Russian Ark : Interview With Alexander Sokurov

I'm no theoretician, I'm a practical director. I have never had any desire to uncover anything new. This idea of the long, unbroken shot has existed for years. I never do anything new. .. I am interested only in classical form and content. In the professional world, much of the art has been utterly forgotten and therefore my conduct is sometimes seen as radical, but it's simply that I remember a lot. .. the very fact of art itself is unshakeable; art was perfected long ago. Here, shooting in a single take is an achievement in formal terms, but more than that it is a tool with the aid of which a specific artistic task can be resolved. It's just a tool.

What is this tool called?

Breathing. One has to live a specific amount of time in a single breath. Back in the spring of 1999 the producer Andrey Deryabin suggested that I take on a serious production based around the Hermitage collection. He knows my great admiration, my almost reverential attitude to this museum. I had an idea but it was very expensive and complicated to put into effect. This idea was for a film shot, as it were "in a single breath".

The screen format, cinematography - everything depends on the scissors, on the knife. Editors and producers accumulate, then edit using time according to their own whims. And I wanted to try and fit myself into the very flowing of time, without remaking it according to my wishes. I wanted to try and have a natural collaboration with time, to live that one and a half hours as if it were merely breathing in. .. and out. That was the ultimate, the sole artistic task. ..

Before this, nobody had ever tried it. In order to make a film in a single breath the many different components within the whole concept have to be in accord with each other, all the different parts have to be linked together, and each must flow from the previous part. .. one has to grow a tree, as it were. Whenever I'm working on a film I seek to grow a tree. Not a bush, but a tree. That is the principle which has guided me through many years in the cinema. ..

Does the action take place in different times?

In different times. The time of Peter the Great and Catherine the Great, of Nicholas I and II. .. For me, not one of those times has ever stopped or ended. Historical time cannot depart, cannot collapse.

This is a historic feature, in which there are central heroes. Some unknown foreigner, born in the 19th century, who has visited Russia. And another figure,a contemporary figure, the Author. Both find themselves in this situation, moving through a labyrinth. The labyrinth is the Hermitage, the only place in Russia where such a thing exists, for there is no other such artistic and vivid labyrinth.