The Sun (2005)
Dir. Aleksandr Sokurov
No matter how many of Sokurov’s films I view, no matter how much I read into every single one of them, and no matter how many times I feel like I can finally make some sort of cohesive thread that binds his work together, he goes and makes, well, another film. I cannot peg this brilliant filmmaker down.
The Sun, finally seeing release in the U.S. four years after its premiere, is indeed a quirky, hard-t0-peg kind of film. It belongs as the third film in a “trilogy” of films conceived by Sokurov detailing the great dictators of the early 20th century, following Moloch (Hitler) and Taurus (Lenin). Having not seen the prior two films, I cannot speak for a common theme, but his vision of Emperor Hirohito in The Sun is quite an odd one, full of ambiguity, and not the least bit of realism in detailing his final moments of defeat in WWII. Sokurov chooses a highly humanistic approach, and dare I say even goofy at times, showing Hirohito as a man of intense complexity, but yet embodying a childlike confusion just the same. Hirohito is played by Iseei Ogata with an amazing theatrical gusto, one that treads a fine line between exploratory and complete over-the-top bravado.
That line, however, is obliterated once General Douglas MacArthur enters the picture, played with complete ridiculous abandon by Robert Dawson, and The Sun all of a sudden becomes an absurdist satire on diplomatic relations, one that flirts close to the flair of the War Room scenes in Dr. Strangelove (though, admittedly, not anywhere near as profoundly brilliant as those). Yet, even with such grandiose moments as those, The Sun never actually takes the leap and veers to political territory; this is a film much more concerned with debunking a myth about great powers, and attempting to explore a human side of them that cannot be separated from history. Sokurov takes great pleasure in watching Hirohito glance at himself in a mirror, watching him do private marine biology research, or even watch him prance around like a schoolboy extinguishing candles. It is an image of great many layers, and one that, in my eyes, does not attempt to re-write history and forgive anything about it.
As for the film-making itself, well, this indeed remains unmistakably a Sokurov film, filled with all those impossibly beautiful moments I’ve come to expect from the director. One involving a crane proves once again that he is one of the great magicians of cinema. It’s a film of endless surprises from a filmmaker who lives to do just that.