The story is simple and largely based on Dostoevsky's ''Crime and Punishment''.We get to follow a young man who has committed a murder and struggles with himself and his feelings of guilt. The young man (Raskolnikov) picks up a prostitute (Sonja) with the purpose of trying to ease his bad conscience or seek absolution.As time passes by, the feelings of remorse take over, and the world appears increasingly frightening and twisted in Raskolnikov's eyes. But at the same time he asks himself, in a world like this, does it really matter if you take another human beings life?The camera slowly sweeps across the jagged front of a house somewhere in the working-class slum or harbour area. So slow, that time seems to stand still. The outline of a filthy, run-down and drab-looking world is beginning to emerge. Further on, the camera tilts down towards the water and sets on a lonely, pitifully huddled up figure. He gets up slowly and soon an obnoxious beggar descends on him. This is how Aleksandr Sokurov's film Whispering Pages begins.The film is characterized by a tremendously intimate, documentary style portrayal of the surroundings as well as the people. By using very little dialogue and a barren visual language, a suggestive and poetically austere film is presented to a viewer that cannot avoid but being touched. The film visualizes a whole city or a world where selfishness is mixed with violence, love with cynicism, and spirituality with resignation or moral cowardice. This is a world that belongs to the humiliated and outcasts of society.Sokurov flirts with the surrealists Dali/ Buñuel in this film as well as his previous ones. In the same way as those films tried to conjure up and embody the innermost part of the human being, you may notice how Sokurov takes on some of the eternal questions in Whispering Pages. What is crime? What is punishment? Is there a God and if so, for whom?The dialogue is based on 19th century Russian prose (Gogol, Gorky, Dostoevsky, among others) but that does not mean that the film only relates to a vanished era, it also tells us something of our own times. Maybe it is the Russia, or Western Europe, of today that is being portrayed?However, the literary influences are meandering. Instead the film is held together by the visual language's very poetic and meditative atmosphere. A delicate play with lighting, music and sound and, most of all, colour makes it possible to talk about a cinematic expressionism. A film that calls for reflection and contemplation.Whispering Pages definitely establishes Aleksandr Sokurov as one of the most interesting contemporary filmmakers in the world, and shows that Russian filmmaking is still something to be reckoned with. Whispering Pages is an extraodrinary film, but nevertheless a masterpiece. A fascinating piece of art which doubtlessly will become a landmark within cinema history. ROBERT LÖFGREN

Title
Whispering Pages
Director
Aleksandr Sokurov
Country
Germany/ Russia
Length
77 min
Festival
1994
Section
Competition
Language
Russian
Production year
1993
Original title
TICHIYE STRANITSY
Cast
Aleksandr Cherednik, Elizaveta Koroljova, Sergei Barkovskii
Producer
Vladimir Fotiev, Tomas Kufus
Script
Aleksandr Sokurov
Music
Gustav Mahler

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See all films from the 1994 festival