1996, full version – 26 min. (short – 12 min.), colour, BETACAM SP Hermitage Bridge Studio
scenario: A. Sokurov
camera: A. Fedorov
sound: V. Persov
editor: L. Semenova
producer: A. Deryabin
“…the ruin...展开s of villas or palaces, castles, bridges, ancient vaults appear one by one before my eyes, like dreams; ghostly landscapes with grey trees…
I enter the Hermitage's halls, and nothing prevents me from approaching any picture, and the very vaults of this famous palace help me to see the canvasses better — small and big ones, almost gigantic ones, painted by this happy master.”
Alexander Sokurov (from the film script)
This is the first film of, and as of yet the only film in, a series planned by Hermitage Bridge Studios dedicated to the most important masters of European painting, whose works are included in the collection of the Hermitage Museum, the most famous of Russian museums. It in envisaged that the films will be made by the most prestigious of St. Petersburg's film directors. Only Sokurov has already made his film.
From the enormous list of celebrated names, Sokurov has chosen one — and a very modest one indeed: Hubert Robert, a French painter who worked between the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth. He painted ruins in landscapes.
The formal pretext — the museum's request, intended to popularise its treasures — coincided with the film–maker's deepest need: to create a “cultural context” for his own lyrical confession. Hence, Sokurov makes the film both about the canvasses and about the fate of an artist possessed by the idea of the search for harmony. In this respect, Hubert Robert was a man of his time, a time which found its classical ideals in the ways of life of an ancient city, an ancient personality and an ancient ruler. But the contented life of the artist, like his Age, finished with the collapse of the Napoleonic empire — it ended in disaster for his family and for himself. But he lives on in the majestic ruins in the nostalgic landscapes. These were particularly popular in nineteenth century Russia. Their vogue reflects the astonishment and delight of Russians in the face of a Western civilisation that had already followed the path from formation and development to death and destruction. Russia herself was in that very period of formation in the nineteenth century — the apocalyptic impulses were already present in the culture and social life of the Golden Age of Russia. For this reason, Sokurov places Dostoevsky and Gogol's reminiscences in his narrative, as well as images of traditional Japanese theatre — a firm bulwark to this harmonic cultural tradition, since lost by Europe.