Ill-defined version of story that emphasises the yuck factor
Shot in grimy browns and greens, heavy with tangled-up multi-character physical movement and overlapping conversations, Sokurov’s take on the oft-interpreted Faust legend is no pretty pageant. From its opening shot, which closes in from a romantic landscape to the genitals of a corpse being sloppily autopsied, the film insistently foregrounds the yuck factor in its 19th century setting – presumably to emphasise the grossness from which ambitious Dr Faust (Johannes Zeiler) yearns to escape. He’s ambiguously aided in his quest for knowledge and riches by the grotesque Moneylender (Anton Adasinsky) – Mephistopheles in a fitting earthly profession.
Sokurov snips the moral straightforwardness out of the story – this devil barely tempts or seduces, and the rewards Faust seeks are vague, as is the punishment they might yield. That makes for a chaotic, unpredictable, human tale of physical struggle, mental noise and self-doubt, rather than a pious fable. But it also makes for a total lack of narrative momentum. Amid the onslaught of incessant talk, action, pantomime slapstick and carnivalesque gross-out, Faust’s journey feels ill-defined: the hollow centre of an over-detailed milieu.
Selected release from Fri 11 May.