Review: ‘Faust’ bargains with devil, loses

Money lender (Anton Adaskinsky) and Faust (Johannes Zeiler).

Alexander Sokurov’s “Faust” is a grueling side show of a film, a morbid, mightily uninvolving piece adapted, as have been so many works before it, from the allegorical play by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. That the picture won the 2011 Venice Film Festival’s top prize, the Golden Lion, is as baffling as the movie itself.

This is not to say a great deal of effort didn’t go into mounting and shooting this nightmarish concoction, the fourth in Sokurov’s filmic tetralogy on the nature of power (after 1999’s “Moloch,” 2000’s “Taurus” and 2005’s “The Sun”). In re-creating the foul, impoverished early-19th century German village in which this re-imagining, scripted by Sokurov and Marina Koreneva, takes place, the director, along with cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel, production designer Elena Zhukova and costumer Lidia Krukova, have done vivid work. It’s a shame, then, that it’s all in the service of such an ugly and remote tale.

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The glacially paced film finds the knowledge-hungry Dr. Faust (Johannes Zeiler) embroiled in a rambling verbal and physical journey with local moneylender Mauricius (Anton Adasinsky), a misshapen fiend (read: the Devil) with misplaced genitals (didn’t need to see them!) to whom Faust sells his soul in order to possess an ethereal young woman (Isolda Dychauk). To say things don’t quite go Faust’s way would be an understatement.


En route to, apparently, hell, we’re treated to much grotesque medical and biological imagery (a woman lays an egg and eats it — ‘nuf said), a weird bathhouse tour, an accidental murder, a gaggle of unhinged townsfolk, a creepy living homunculus, lots of convoluted yakking and disjointed mayhem, and a plethora of emotional pain. Good times.

“Faust.” No MPAA rating. Running time: 2 hours, 14 minutes. In German with English subtitles. At Laemmle’s Royal Theatre, West Los Angeles; Laemmle’s Town Center 5, Encino; Laemmle’s Playhouse 7, Pasadena.