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Born: Podorvikha, Russia, 1951.

After a career in television from 1969 to 1975 in Gorky (Nizhny Novgorod), where he attended university, Sokurov studied at VGIK (1975-78), though he would later state categorically: "I got nothing out of VGIK." Though now recognized as among the most important Russian directors of the last two decades, Sokurov's work remained invisible until the intervention of the Conflict Commission of the Union of Cinematographers, set up in 1986. This released from the notorious "shelf" the feature films Odinokii golos chekoveka / The Solitary Voice of Man (1978), a poetic version of the Platonov story filmed so differently by Andron Mikhalkov-Konchalovsky as Maria's Lovers, and his free adaptation of Shaw's Heartbreak House known as Skorbnoe beschuvstvie / Mournful Indifference / Anaesthesia Dolorosa (1983), as well as a number of documentaries. Maria (1975-88) began as a study of a typical collective-farm worker, but when Sokurov returned in 1988 Maria was dead and her husband and daughter parted by feuding. Among other shelved documentaries eventually released were Sonata dlya Gitlera / Sonata for Hitler (1979); Al'tovaya sonata. Dimitrii Shostakovich / Sonata for Viola. Dimitri Shostakovich (1981); Zhertva vechernaya / Evening Sacrifice (1984), a montage of people returning from a demonstration in Leningrad; and Elegiya / Elegy (1985), a vision of Russia's fate based on the career of the great bass Chaliapin. Since then Sokurov has continued a prolific career in documentaries and features. His documentaries include Moskovskaya elegiya / Moscow Elegy (1987), made in memory of Andrey Tarkovsky, as well as Sovetskaya elegiya / Soviet Elegy (1989) and Primer intonatsii / An Example of Intonation (1991), both about Boris Yeltsin. The feature Dni zatmeniya / Days of Eclipse (1988) casts a young Russian doctor adrift in a remote Central Asian town, and deploys a continually dynamic camera and inventive soundtrack to create a haunting picture of alienation. Spasi i sokhrani / Save and Protect (1989) is a challenging version of Madame Bovary set in the Caucasus. In Krug vtoroi / The Second Circle (1990), a young man returns to the flat of his deceased father, and Sokurov provides a relentlessly austere vision of the Soviet way of death, an examination he deepens in Kamen' / Stone (1992). Sokurov's concerns with death and the significance of human life continues in two films made in 1993, the documentary Elegiya iz Rossii / Russian Elegy, which incorporates late nineteenth-century photographs and early twentieth-century war footage, and the feature Tikhie stranitsy / Whispering Pages, set in a St. Petersburg of the mind and steeped in the dark world of the "insulted and the injured" of nineteenth-century Russian literature.

Julian Graffy, Encyclopedia of European Cinema

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This page was last updated on 3 September 2000.