i found it to be hauntingly sad, to be honest. it's a beautiful film, and one long, continual, lavish shot through a gallery and time. the costumes are lavish. the scenery is lavish. the actors are lavish too. but i found it sad, echoed with loss, showing me a world that had been broken, lost to the stream of time.
(the lovely and wonderful with her directions miss r. would probably want you to know that she didn't think it was sad, so i drop her opinion in here for a bit of objectivity.)
it's a hard film to describe, because it's not plot driven. the dreamer (us) weaves back and forth through time periods, interacting with the present, with his guide, but never with the past. he must always watch the past. (it's unfair, i think, to call him a dreamer... i think the dark underbelly is that it's actually a coma victim, or someone dying. you meet doctors early on, who he knows, by name, and the smell of formaldehyde rises from them. but i could go either way. the dreamer might, indeed, be russia: broken, battered, thrust into a coma, dying.)
but while not being plot driven, it's impossible to describe to anyone the lavish quality of it. it's as close to anything, i think, that any of us will ever have to being in the winter palace, and attending one of the functions there. and indeed, nothing will compare to an aged catherine II running through the snow, into the shadowy, blurred distance.
i'm not a student of russia. what i know, i have taken from here and there, and high school history lessons, which began where the film ended. therefor, things slipped past me. was the young man in the art gallery, beneath the painting of a skinned carcass, in fact the composer of the music playing? was there a larger significance to the man building his coffin, as it was?
questions. they didn't stop me from enjoying the film, which i did, greatly, but there was a level i couldn't reach with it. it's a film for russians, to be consumed by them, and unless you are a student of russian history, a level of this film will be unavailable to you. but that shouldn't stop you from watching it. it's a rare and beautiful film, with a thread of sadness (perhaps regret is a better word?) running throughout.