From Russia, With Love

An Uneven Tribute To Cellist Mstislav Rostropovich

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Aleksandr Sokurov made an international splash in 2002 with his technically ingenious Russian Ark, a survey of Russian history symbolized by a room-by-room tour of the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. The film, which reveled in gilded art and royal splendor, was hailed as a masterpiece because it was composed of a single, unedited Steadicam shot. Sokurov's methods are impressive, but his iciness makes him a director more admired than beloved.

The Russian filmmaker's 2006 documentary Elegy of Life. Rostropovich. Vishnevskaya. - a tribute to the great Russian cellist-conductor Mstislav Rostropovich, who died in 2007, and his wife, acclaimed opera singer Galina Vishnevskaya - has a similar obsession with objets d'art, as his camera lingers lovingly on the elegant, art-filled residence of "Slava" (Rostropovich's nickname) and Galina. At times, it seems Sokurov is more interested in settings than people - the couple's gorgeous home, a barrel organ given to Slava by the Queen of Spain, and Slava and Galina's 50th wedding anniversary gala, attended by international royalty, whose names Sokurov recites with awe.

The film is imaginatively constructed, and Sokurov has a lively way of incorporating historic photographs and footage. But he doesn't seem much interested in the narrative of Rostropovich's life or the details of his 1970s exile by the Soviets after he sheltered Solzhenitsyn. The interviews with the couple, then both 79, do yield some interesting moments, despite Sokurov's disturbing insistence that Galina recount the death of her firstborn child in 1945, a decade before she married Rostropovich.

Music lovers will relish Rostopovich's deeply felt views on performing and composing, and reminiscences about Prokofiev and Shostakovich, who admired Mahler so much he was said to suffer from "Mahleria." "In a way, we are prostitutes for composers," said the esteemed cellist, who deserves a more sharply focused biography than Sokurov gives him.

Elegy of Life. Rostropovich. Vishnevskaya 1/2 Cleveland Museum of Art at 7 p.m, Friday, March 13 and 1:30 p.m., Sunday, March 15

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