Alexander Sokurov | Father and Son
Classic Film and Television Home Page
Alexander Sokurov is a contemporary Russian film director.
Some common subjects in the films of Alexander Sokurov:
- Little kids (composer and sisters as children: Sonata for Viola,
young student skaters: Patience Labor)
- Very young men (locker room: Patience Labor, privates: Alexandra)
- Men in pairs (soldiers, composer and friend: Sonata for Viola, gymnasts: Patience Labor,
leads: Father and Son)
- Hunks (father: Father and Son, grandson: Alexandra)
- Conductors of classical music (Leonard Bernstein: Sonata for Viola,
brief clips: Patience Labor, Russian Ark)
- Uniforms (Sonata for Viola, Russian Ark, Father and Son, Alexandra)
- Sports events (diving, gymnast displays: Sonata for Viola,
ice skating: Patience Labor)
- People falling in physical activity (whirligig as metaphor: Sonata for Viola,
student skaters: Patience Labor) related (supporting elderly heroine: Alexandra)
- Winter ice breaking up (Sonata for Viola, Patience Labor)
- Outdoor markets (footage of early Russian food market: Sonata for Viola,
Chechen market: Alexandra)
- Building facades (school, model with fog: Patience Labor,
camouflaged military, Chechen in ruins: Alexandra)
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