The National Gallery in DC is hosting a program of several Aleksandr Sokurov elegies during the month of March, and will conclude with his latest film, Russian Ark. I plan on seeing the entire series (barring any more snow, that is ), so will be periodically updating this thread. Here are my journal notes from this weekend's three films: Evening Sacrifice, Moscow Elegy, and Mariya. Evening Sacrifice, 1987 Evening Sacrifice is tonally composed of two indelibly entrancing and hypnotically fluid images: a color sequence that captures the methodical precision of a military regiment deploying fireworks over the Neva River to the melancholic serenade of a nostalgic, old-fashioned ballad, that transitions to a sepia-toned footage of a crowd indiscriminately dispersing into the street amidst a frenetic assortment of effervescent pop tunes, most identifiably, The Beatles' Can't Buy Me Love. As the sound of canon fire dissipates in the cacophony of ambient street noise, the solemn oratorio of Boris Khristov's haunting, full-bodied bass voice rises above the din. Juxtaposing the sound of a traditional, Russian Orthodox Byzantine chant to the image of a chaotic human spectacle, Aleksandr Sokurov creates an understatedly poignant and meditative filmic prayer for a disordered, aimless, and despiritualized modern world. Moscow Elegy, 1988 More allusive and evocative than biographical in content, Moscow Elegy is Aleksandr Sokurov's tribute documentary to Russian filmmaker, friend, and mentor, Andrei Tarkovsky that concentrates on the iconic filmmaker's final years in Western Europe. Incorporating thematically representative scenes from Tarkovsky's last two, deeply spiritual, non-Russian films, Nostalghia and The Sacrifice, as well as behind the scenes footage that show a contemplative, but inexhaustibly driven creative visionary (reviewing the script for Nostalghia with screenwriter Tonino Guerra in Italy and discussing the mechanics of an exterior shot with cinematographer Sven Nyquist on the set of The Sacrifice in Sweden), juxtaposed against traumatic political events in the Soviet Union (specifically, the deaths of Leonid Brezhnev and Yuri Andropov), Sokurov illustrates Tarkovsky's continued struggle between individual expression and a bureaucratically-induced artistic suppression in the SovietUnion that led to his reluctant exile. Through pervasive sepia tones, lingering images of empty spaces from Tarkovsky's past, and a haunting and ethereal bookend shot of Tarkovsky's late mother, Maya Ivanovna Vishnyakova, Sokurov poignantly reflects on the melancholic longing and palpable void of Tarkovsky's absence - first personally, as Sokurov awaits the return of his colleague and cinematic kindred spirit to their beloved motherland, then globally, as the international community responds to the tragic news of Tarkovsky's untimely death. Mariya, 1988 Aleksandr Sokurov creates a visually poetic, elegant, and unforgettable synthesis of art and life in Mariya. The lush and textural initial sequence, shot using color film, presents the austere life of the titular Mariya - a robust, genial, and hard-working middle-aged collective farmer with an engaging smile - during an arduous flax harvest season in the summer of 1975: operating heavy machinery, sharing a meal at a communal table with fellow workers, visiting her young son's grave, enjoying a lazy afternoon by the lake with her family on her day off, and proudly (and uninhibitedly) describing her responsibilities and work ethic before the camera. The film then jarringly cuts to a somber, monochromatic, blue-filtered concluding sequence recorded nine years later, as Sokurov returns to the peasant community in order to screen the 1975 documentary footage to several of the film's participants, with the notable exception of Mariya who, in the interim, had passed away at the age of 45. Capturing a tenuous reconciliation between Mariya's husband (who had since remarried) and now adult daughter after the screening of the film, and assembling a serene composition of haunting and innately expressive natural imagery - a vast, unharvested field, photographs of Mariya's spare, but beautiful funeral ceremony, and affectionate shots of Mariya's young grandchildren - Sokurov creates a powerful, profoundly moving, and graceful recorded document on the transience of time and the transcendence of the human soul.