Alexander Sokurov | Father and Son

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Alexander Sokurov

Alexander Sokurov is a contemporary Russian film director.

Some common subjects in the films of Alexander Sokurov:


Father and Son

Father and Son (2003) is a much better film than many of its American reviews have been suggesting. I experienced "flow" while watching it: got caught up in the story, characters and visual style, wanted to see what was coming next, wanted to experience what was happening on-screen to the fullest, watched the whole thing without the slightest interruption or break.


Father and Son is an "architectural" movie, in the way Fritz Lang, Michelangelo Antonioni, King Vidor, etc. are architectural (as Andrew Sarris pointed out). In almost all of the scenes, the building features behind the characters form geometric patterns. These building features are the core of the film's visual style. This is true both of the film's interiors, and the many exteriors featuring city streets and their tall houses.

The architecture keeps getting more and more complex during the film, and taking in more and more features and detail. This gives a progressive quality to the film's mise-en-scène.

The story follows the characters around from room to room of the apartment, and out onto the adjacent roofs, in a way recalling the traveling through the rooms of the hermitage in Russian Ark. Here, however, Sokurov moves more quickly from room to room, and often back tracks into places where he has already been, unlike the earlier film. Still, both works' scenarios are more based on and centered on the rooms the characters occupy, than any ordinary plot events of the films.


Much of the film is rectilinear: there are many pictures on the walls, for example, but they tend to be in rectangular frames. (This is a contrast to Claude Chabrol's Ten Days Wonder (1971), where oval portraits are everywhere, along with oblong lamp shades, etc.)

Even when Sokurov shows objects, such as a complex, old-fashioned radio set, it is photographed almost as if the radio is a house. We see the geometric patterns of the radio, with its series of rectilinear buttons and large oblong box, the same way we see the house features in the other shots of the film.

The most important curved pattern in the film, a mushroom shaped chimney (?) on the roof, is reserved for Sokurov's big finale. It both develops the film's visual style in a climactic way, and also introduces the film's most powerful phallic symbol.

The Dream: Links to Mother and Son

The early dream sequence takes place not in a city, but in the countryside, entirely away from any buildings. These shots recall similar country imagery in Mother and Son (1997). The dream sequence also uses the sort of distorting lenses found in the earlier film. They are also found elsewhere in the movie.

Opening a film with a dream sequence related to the characters' sexuality recalls Lang's Secret Beyond the Door (1948).


Father and Son is an exceptionally warm movie. It treats its characters' romantic feelings in a vivid, sympathetic and expressive way. At all times, the characters' sense of desire is steaming up out of the acting and mise-en-scène. There is none of the "alienation" here that is so fashionable in some filmmakers. We always know what the characters are feeling. It seems like the direct antithesis of something like Goodbye Dragon Inn, in which alienated characters seek anonymous sex from unpleasant, unhappy and downright cold looking strangers, and where we never know what any of Tsai's poker faced non-actors are ever feeling. You always know exactly what everyone in Sokurov's film is feeling, and the feelings are expressed with a rich and subtle artistry that washes over you like a Gongora in a greenhouse (And if you've never smelled a Gongora orchid, you need to get to a greenhouse soon!) Sokurov actually expresses what his gay characters are feeling, romantically, emotionally and sexually, and makes his audience understand it.

There has been some debate whether the men in the movie are gay. The film clearly depicts a group of gay characters. And they are shown most sympathetically.

The casting here is especially "problematic" in denying a literal reading. The father and son characters are played by actors who look as if they are 26 and 22, respectively. This is fine for a pair of gay lovers - but not real credible for a parent and child. The film is best seen as having a hallucinatory quality, a magical double reading. At one level, these are a father and son, who have a parent-child relationship with each other. At another level, they are a pair of unrelated gay lovers whose loving relationship embodies the caring, protective and emotional aspects of a father-son relationship. In fiction, such a doubling is possible.

All of this reminds one of comedian Red Buttons' spoof of the TV Western series, Bonanza. He described patriarch Lorne Greene and his TV "sons" as the "saga of a 50 year old father and his three 49 year old sons".


Much is made here of the male characters' fancy uniforms, just as in Russian Ark. Even when the characters in Father and Son are in civilian clothes, they are often wearing fashion inspired by military motifs: shirts with patch pockets, leather flier's jackets, khaki shorts.


Father and Son is not a perfect movie. The film is full of non-explained back-stories for the characters, in the manner of Tarkovsky. I always found this non-exposition, or anti-exposition, downright maddening in Tarkovsky, and I don't really like this any more here. There are many things in the film and the dialogue I just can't explain. It ultimately did not affect my enjoyment of the film, but it IS an obstacle. This is just a warning. Some people regard non-exposition as a sign of artistry (I don't). Others are horrified by it, and regard a film that does not spell everything out as an affront. I sometimes feel this way myself - but with a film this interesting, am prepared to overlook it.