Stone, The

(Russian B&W)

Toronto Film Festival 1992–The Stone reaffirms Aleksandr Sokhurov's reputation as one of the most innovative filmmakers in the contemporary avant-garde Russian cinema. In his new, demanding work, Sokhurov, whose prolific film oeuvre is inexplicably obscure in the U.S., continues to experiment with the language of cinema and the film experience itself. Picture's lack of conventional storyline and slow pacing should prove difficult for mainstream moviegoers.

Set for the most part at the Chekhov Museum (where the film was actually shot), The Stone is structured as a series of encounters between a young man, who works as a guard at the museum, and an older, mysterious man who may well be the famous writer himself.

The Stone can be experienced as a reverie, a film that's strong on ambience and stunning visuals. There are hidden messages in the interaction between the two men, who drift in and out of the story in an unpredictable, but always fascinating, manner. Freudian in texture and tone, the film suggests that the young man may relate to the older one as his surrogate father.

Constructed like a musical symphony, The Stone is decidedly not a conventional narrative film. Instead, Sokhurov explores the two basic conventions of the film medium, time and space, and the various ways they interact, fuse and collide.

For long stretches of time, this quiet and hypnotic film, which is saturated with stillness, relies on natural sounds; one can actually hear the men breathing, or the sound of their steps on the squeaking floor. This stillness becomes particularly effective when it is violated by dialogue or broken with classical music (by Tchaikovsky, Mozart, and Mahler).

Working in perfect tandem, Andrey Bourov's spellbinding lensing gives the mostly interior film a moody b&w stylization. Of the few outdoors scenes, one long take of a snowstorm is so magical it gives the viewers the glowing feel of being there themselves. Almost every shot is startling with inventive mise en scene and unusual framing. And because the camera stays at a chilling distance, the sparse use of close-ups is most effective.

Provocative and stimulating, The Stone forces viewers to reexamine their own ways of reading films.

Credits

A Lenfilm Studio production. Directed by Aleksandr Sokhurov. Screenplay, Yuri Arabov. Camera (b&w), Andrey Bourov; editor, L. Semionova; sound, Vladimir Persov. Reviewed at the Toronto festival of Festivals, Sep 15, 1992. Running time: 87 min.

With Leonid Mozgovoy, Piotr Alexandrov, and V. Semlonov.