(2000) Russia. Lenfilm.

Directed by Aleksandr Sokurov

Written by Iurii Arabov. Cinematography by Aleksandr Sokurov. Art direction by Nataliia Kochergina. Edited by Leda Semenova. Produced by Viktor Sergeev. With Leonid Mozgovoi, Mariia Kuznetsova, Sergei Razhuk, and Nataliia Nikulenko.

In Russian. No English Subtitles.

Employing modest means and an uncompromising artistic sensibility, Russian filmmaker Aleksandr Sokurov produces works which address the most profound quandaries of human existence. Possessed of uncommon vision and a enormous sense of craft, Sokurov and his screenwriter Iurii Arabov create works which are challenging and substantive, but which require concentration to appreciate, because of their often ponderous pacing and minimalist narrative style.
His latest film, Taurus,... is a veiled, imaginatively speculative account of the last days of Vladimir Lenin. It is the second work in a planned tetrology of films focusing on the personal side of men in power in the 20th century. The first film in the series was Moloch, which looked at the relationship between Hitler and Eva Braun.
The thread that runs through a number of Sokurov's films is a depiction of one kind or another of deterioration and death. Taurus is no exception, and the latter themes are explored in a somewhat more direct way than his previous film, Moloch, as it deals with Lenin's gradual wasting away in illness. Part of the fascination of the two films is Sokurov's choice of intriguing times and settings in the lives of the two leaders.
Both films are extrapolations on relative lulls in their subjects' biographies, but are made somehow subtly dramatic by the intimate situations depicted. Sokurov sees Lenin as an unfortunate and even incongruous figure. "He slept through the Revolution," he says. "He really missed out on the significant events."
Despite the surface trappings of period detail, like Moloch, the film does not look at the events from a historical, political or even exclusively Russian perspective. Accentuating the common human element, it attempts to evince an ailing man at the twilight of his life whose time at the forefront has passed, who sees that his well-intentioned ideals will never be realized, not while he is living, and not after his death.
Despite being lionized in a personality cult among the masses, he has himself become just about irrelevant in person. The attending staff that take care of him in his last days treat him either with either perfunctory indifference or like a child. He anxiously awaits news from Moscow, but the staff phone rarely rings. His successor, the shade of Stalin (Sergei Razhuk) looks down upon him, and gives him the symbolic gift of a cane.
The film stars his regular collaborator Leonid Mozgovoi, a highly talented, chameleon-like actor who played Anton Chekhov in Sokurov's Stone and Hitler in Moloch. His Lenin is cantankerous and stubborn, wanting to do everything "himself." Both Sokurov and Mozgovoi have commented on the relative difficulty of working on this film in relation to Moloch, since the history explored in this film is much closer to home, literally and figuratively. Maria Kuznetsova, an actress from the Alexandrinsky Theater, portrays Nadezhda Krupskaya as a disheveled and earthy woman seemingly oblivious to Lenin's final concerns.
Taurus was the first film where Sokurov acted as his own cameraman. It is photographed through an aqua-colored haze, and although there is something of a pall hanging over the proceedings, the script deftly relieves the woe at times, with a few well-placed moments of comic relief. The final scene, where Lenin cries out in despair only to be answered by the mooing of a cow is particularly poignant and powerful.
A highly personal statement on the pith of contemporary Russian history, Taurus is quietly engrossing. It will?have its first public viewing in the West at Cannes this year, to be followed by various other festival screenings.

—Kirill Galetski, "Sokurov Takes Intimate Look at Lenin's Last Days" (St. Petersburg Times, Mar. 2, 2001)

Aleksandr Sokurov was born near Lake Baikal, Siberia, in 1951. From 1969 to 1975 he worked as an assistant director at the Gorky television studio. He took a history degree at the University of Gorky in 1974 and graduated from the directing department at the All-Union State Filmmaking Institute (VGIK) in 1978. While at VGIK, Sokurov was one of the leaders of the student opposition. His thesis film, Lonely Human Voice (based on the prose of Andrei Platonov) was almost destroyed by the censor and could be released only in 1987, during perestroika, along with several other films he had made since 1978. Sokurov has lived and worked in St. Petersburg (Leningrad) since 1980. He has also worked in cinema as an actor, and as a sound director on Fellini's And the Ship Sails On (1983).

Selected Filmography:

1987 Lonely Human Voice
1987 Evening Sacrifice
1987 Mournful Insensibility
1988 Days of the Eclipse
1989 Save and Protect
1990 Second Circle
1992 Stone
1993 Whispering Pages
1995 Spiritual Voices
1996 Eastern Elegy
1997 Mother and Son
1999 Moloch
2000 Taurus

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