Rotterdam 2023 Review: Sokurov's Last FAIRYTALE

Alexander Sokurov newest film is a strange animation, musing about the minds of mad dictators.

Editor, Europe; Rotterdam, The Netherlands (@ardvark23)
Rotterdam 2023 Review: Sokurov's Last FAIRYTALE
Russian director Alexander Sokurov makes weird films, or rather really special ones. Most famous of these is probably 2002's Russian Ark, an absolutely fantastic walk through 300 years of Russian history as displayed in the Hermitage museum, done in one gargantuan take with thousands of extras (and three orchestras thrown in for good measure).

His latest film Skazka aka. Fairytale may be his self-proclaimed last one and let's agree that if this is true, it is a pity. For while Sokurov may be an acquired taste and not one for everyone, at least the man has a unique vision and finds interesting ways to tell people about his favorite topics. His films are regularly shown at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, and as I had enjoyed Sokurov's output before, I took a look.

IFFR2023-skazka-ext1.jpg In Fairytale we follow Stalin, Hitler, Churchill and Mussolini as they wander around in an afterlife of ruins. Repeatedly they gather in front of Heaven's gate and demand to be let in, but day after day they are refused entry. Confronted with their lives and the atrocities they were responsible for, they show no regrets and offer no excuses. Instead, they bitterly complain and joke about each other's philosophies, appearances and failures. They also meet several different versions of themselves, from different stages of their lives, to further bicker and trade insults with.

Alexander Sokurov is no newcomer to this material: he has often shown an interest in the thought processes of some of history's most notorious dictators, and he brings several of them together here, playing with them as if they are his favorite puppets. Mixing styles as always, Sokurov has basically made Fairytale an animation. All backgrounds are based on pen and ink artworks, and several of the celestial figures are shown as cartoons. In contrast, all footage with Stalins, Hitlers, Churchills and Mussolinis are edited in from historical film, as unaltered as possible. This means you only see them prancing and posturing, in several outfits, and that is exactly what Sokurov wants you to see.

The end result is a film which, while visually pretty, is incomprehensible if you don't know anything about these four people and how their political interactions were in real history. And even when you do, watching them be their intolerable selves in this strange environment turns old at some point. You might wonder if Fairytale might not have worked better as a short. It is, however, what it is, and it is 100% a Sokurov film.

Audiences at the International Film Festival generally knew what they were in for, and awarded the film a very decent 3.7 out of 5, landing it just outside of the fest's top 100.

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