Published: 10 May, 2012
by DAN CARRIER
The story of Faust has been told time and again.
This version sees Russian director Alexander Sokurov transplant the action into 19th-century Germany.
Faust is a creature of curiosity, who we meet in rather ghoulish fashion at the start of this film dissecting dead people in search of where the soul may be found as guts tumble from a slit-open belly.
He meets raggedy-dressed Marcisius (who is this film’s Mephistopheles) and the pair take us on a tour of the cobbled streets of their town, as we learn about Faust’s pact with the devil to gain untold knowledge.
Making deals with the Devil always leads to trouble, as many former Lib Dem councillors will tell you, and Faust soon realises the error of his ways.
This is a rather dark undertaking, but it is saved by odd humour, and the very texture of the film print makes it rather lovely to gaze at.
Christopher Marlowe’s play brought it to our shores and it has transcended centuries – Robert Johnson’s Meeting of the Devil at the Crossroads was essentially the same tale, substituting knowledge for grease-lightning guitar skills, while Highgate film director Terry Gilliam put it on the stage as an opera last year to great acclaim.
Yet this is not a film too far: it is marvellously shot, incredibly structured – sets and locations provide a scary backdrop for the action.
If there is a criticism, it’s minor: the subtitles were in white lettering and rather small – I struggled at times, so take a pair of opera glasses.
It is also rather long, but the story was enthralling enough, with stirring performances to keep the seat-fidget at bay.