Alexander Sokurov's War Documentaries
Alexander Sokurov's Spiritual Voices and Confession are produced for DVD by
Ideale Audience, Paris and will be released on NTSC DVD
by Facets Video in Region 1, on March 29, 2005.
Known until now mostly from shows at art museums, film festivals, and
European TV channels, these two films by Alexander Sokurov are
presented for the first time on DVD with English subtitles (removable).
Both are 2xDVD sets.
Also visit the
official website of Alexander Sokurov & Alexander Drunin's Sokurov information site.
SPIRITUAL VOICES is a documentary following the daily lives of a
brigade of Russian border guards along the Tadjik/Afghani border.
Originally made for television with Betacam SP cameras, it transcends
the format with its remarkable discipline and expansive (328 minutes)
unblinking gaze. Long takes, minimal dialogue, and painterly cinematography.
Watch the short sequence of helicopter ride, for
example, and just try to find a similar scene in any CGI-saturated
blockbuster. The soundtrack would probably deserve an analysis of its
own as it's so meticulously and delicately crafted from the natural
sounds, fragments of Richard Wagner's Siegfried, and music by Toru
The quality of the transfer is excellent, there are no obvious
compression artifacts and it's probably safe to assume the DVD looks
virtually identical to the original Betacam source (except for colour
manipulation in some scenes). The artifacts of the PAL-to-NTSC
conversion are negligible. There is some ghosting visible on still
frames but given the non-high-resolution nature of the source, it is
in fact hard to tell the conversion-induced blur from the source's
inherent lack of filmlike sharpness. The conversion appears to treat
all video fields separately further improving the smoothness of the
The only odd feature we noticed was the presence of what seem to be
digitally superimposed fake "film scratches." They look like small
black specks and are present throughout, including the title cards and credits. They
are tiny and unobtrusive and very quickly become quite unnoticeable
but their presence and their obviously artificial origin is admittedly
a puzzle to this reviewer. For examples of these specks, see the chin of the soldier in the framegrab
to the left (click to enlarge; the mark appears in only one of the interlaced fields in this particular frame grab).
A small DVD-ROM section includes an 8-page PDF booklet. The printed
notes for the DVD are apparently not ready yet and we haven't seen
them. The English subtitles are very well done and the chosen typeface
is always legible.
The supplement consists of an 11-minute Sokurov short Soldier's
Dream based on footage from Spiritual Voices. Additional extras
would make us even happier: how about some Sokurov TV interviews?
— Jan Bielawski, February 11, 2005.
CONFESSION begins with a title card defining the film as a work of
fiction. It was nevertheless shot using a similar technique to that of Spiritual Voices: an
unhurried (210 min.) documentary video camera following the life on a
Russian navy battleship at the Barents Sea. The names we hear on the
soundtrack reappear later in the closing credits — these people
are not actors. The reflections and diary
entries of the captain form the "fiction" part of the film. The film's
original title means "Duty" with the connotation of both "obligation"
and "conscription." The English title seems to stress more the
captain's inner monologue.
The transfer quality is the same as that of Spiritual Voices, in other
words excellent considering the source was professional non-hi-def
video. The picture is matted to 2:1
and labelled "widescreen" on the DVD box. Subtitles are faithful to the
original language. The odd
"scratches" from Spiritual Voices are absent.
The supplement section consists of a PDF booklet in the DVD-ROM section.
Again, more supplemental material on Mr. Sokurov would certainly make
his fans very happy!
— Jan Bielawski, February 11, 2005.