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Alexander Sokurov’s Faust

Alexander Sokurov, Faust, 2011, 35 mm, color, sound, 134 minutes. Moneylender (Anton Adasinsky) and Heinrich Faust (Johannes Zeiler).

“IT WILL BE A VERY COLORFUL, elegant picture with a lot of Strauss music,” predicted Russian director Alexander Sokurov in 2005, envisaging his long-nurtured version of Goethe’s Faust: “There won’t be any smell of war, but you’ll sense the aroma of chocolate in the room.” Six years later, after Vladimir Putin had personally ensured the film’s funding, the Faust that triumphed at the Venice Film Festival, where it won the Golden Lion, proved more metaphysical dirge than frothy operetta. Along the way, the color turned dun and fungal, the elegance to grotesquerie, the Strauss to pastiched Gounod and Wagner, and that warm, chocolaty fragrance to the stench of excrement and putrescent flesh. (A scratch-’n’-sniff exemplar of olfactory cinema, Sokurov’s Faust fairly reeks of rot and scrofula; even a passing comet is reduced to “a fart!” as the lank-haired tavern keeper cries in delight

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