A reaction to Sokurov
I write this immediately after finishing viewing Sokurov’s The Second Circle. It was a strained encounter, mostly on account of my own faults, but I nonetheless want to comment on one thread of my reaction.
A man’s father dies. Now there is much for him to do: all the documents must be taken care of. A headstrong woman comes to bully him about this, and offers advice on how he ought to handle things. “I’m a professional, trust me.” The most chilling words in the film. I can feel his grief being constricted, choked, stifled. It cannot adopt any expression of its own, as it is being shoehorned through hoops. All of this is shown up later when he asks her a very naïve question: “what is it for?” The question is directed to her order to put slippers on the dead man’s body. Her response: “it’s the law.” Such is the response of a professional. She comments that he clearly has little funeral experience. Otherwise he would know How It Is Done. What is unfortunate is that this brilliant, naïve question yields no fruit; he remains squashed by her experience and the confidence and bullheadedness it brings. Only when she leaves, and all others, is there any release: it comes when he burns his father’s belongings. But there is something inadequate about it, which I cannot articulate. An emotion given release after it has been choked to death lies limp. I wish he had simply dug a hole in the ground and thrown his father in, the documents be damned. (Contrast with Mother and Son.)
What is amazing is how Sokurov achieves this with a minimum of facial expression—in the most constricted moments the son’s face is even hidden, and elsewhere there are only the slightest and briefest of tremors.