Fans of abstract helmer Aleksandr Sokurov (“Stone,””The Second Circle”) will find much to admire in “Whispering Pages,” a mesmeric journey through 19 th-century Russian literary themes that looks like Dostoevsky on acid. Most other auds will head for the exit fast. Commercially, this doesn’t have a prayer.
Though Sokurov’s name is often linked with that of the late Andrei Tarkovsky, who supported him from abroad at a time when his works were banned in the Soviet Union, there’s little stylistically to link the two. “Pages” is pure abstract filming, which adherents will prefer to experience prone and under the influence of chemicals, with strong crossover potential for avant-garde art galleries.
In tone, and trawling of thematic material, pic is more down-in-the-depths Dostoevsky, Gogol and Gorky than up-market Pushkin or Tolstoy. Dreamlike opening evokes dock lands, drab buildings and a murky river before seguing to a series of long sequences set among street beggars, a loony bin and dark underground passages.
Central character parallels Raskolnikov, the anti-hero of “Crime and Punishment,” while an urchin-like female recalls Sonya, the prostitute in the same novel. Dialogue is minimal, with excerpts from Mahler’s song cycle “Kindertotenlieder” supplying atmosphere.
Most interesting conceit of the film is a technical one, with printing perpetually balanced on a fine line between pure b&w and hints of color. When the pic briefly blossoms into an unadulterated red, it’s a major event.