Russian auteur Aleksandr Sokurov's Faust begins with a mirror hung pristinely in the heavens like a Réné Magritte apple; this image fades gently into a corpse’s floppy penis and a slimy doctor’s hand reaching into the body’s fetid intestinal cavity. The sequence is telling: This Faust is an airy legend made bawdy flesh. Though the cinematography is soft and gauzily lit, medieval Germany is here an ugly place of foul humours. The actors, including Faust himself (Johannes Zeiler) seem forever sick or drunk, poisoned by the foulness of life and the air. The devil to whom Faust sells his soul is a louche, hunched pawnbroker with a body of ill-formed clay and a penis for a tail. Though an esteemed scientist, Faust himself lusts merely for a bit of scratch and a roll in the hay with a young woman he knows only as an object. Though the actors speak German, it is difficult not to see the film as a rough parable about Russia’s fallen state, in which ultimate power is no longer knowledge but access, and corruption is grimly omnipresent,. “There is no such thing as good,” says Faust’s assistant, “but evil exists in the world.” It is a darkly hallucinogenic, often ponderous vision of the old doctor—a collection of philosophic fever dreams in high language and low places, with unexpected beauty amid tedium. It is a film that asks for a great deal of work from the viewer; it rewards this effort with a sublime bitterness. Fair deal.
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- Release Date: Friday, November 15, 2013
- Critic's Score: A-
- Watch the trailer