A despairing scholar sells his soul to the devil in exchange for one night with a beautiful young woman.
Back in 2011, Russian director Aleksandr Sokurov tackled the iconic story of 'Faust', something that has been interpreted and done many times over since Johann Wolfgang von Goethe first wrote the version most recognized. It's quite a big feat to tackle this subject matter and make it work on an artistic and entertaining level, but Sokruov made it work and eventually the film went on to win the top award at the Venice Film Festival of that year.
If you're unfamiliar with the story of 'Faust', don't let this box art trick you. If you go solely from the box art, you might think this is a very boring period piece, but you would be wrong in that assumption. So wrong in fact, that the movie basically starts out with an image of a corpse's sexual organs. I know, how very 'Nekromantik' of them, right? The film centers on a man named Faust (Johannes Zeiler) who is very interested in what makes the world function, humans love, and if people really have souls.
Faust tries to research this and learn for his own sake. He even goes so far as to literally dig and play with people's guts and blood in order to find a higher plane of existence and soul to humanity. And yes, there is enough gore for your horror hounds out there to enjoy. Fast befriends Moneylender (Anton Adasinsky), who is basically the Devil himself, as he takes Faust on a journey through town, showing him the bad things of the world. But Faust soon comes infatuated with a beautiful woman named Gretchen (Isolda Dychauk).
Faust literally sells his soul to his new friend the Devil in order to have Gretchen, which sets off a series of events, which ultimately leaves Faust in Hell. Sokurov tends to tell this gruesome and twisted tale in an abstract way, more so than a literal way, and it takes a little time to understand what exactly is going on.
The camerawork is excellent and is a new take and very fresh adaptation of this classic tale. The set design is haunting and award worthy as well. The actors deliver on their performances spot on with this type of story telling, which to say the least is not for weak-stomached. It would have been nice to have a more cohesive narrative here, rather than someone narrating for us the entire time and a movie that is made with an abstract eye, rather than a literal one, would have done wonders for the entertainment value here, but one thing is for sure, you won't be able to look away. This version of 'Faust' is definitely worth seeing.
'Faust' comes with an interesting 1080p HD transfer presented in 1.33:1 aspect ratio. I say interesting, because there are tons of problems with this image. That being said, perhaps this was made to look like this was made way back in the day, particularly of old classic film. But man, this video does not look great if you're hoping for an excellent HD look. The detail is almost never sharp or vivid in any moment, with the exception of a couple of closeups where the subjects don't move around a lot.
Other than that, everything seems flat and soft. There is almost no depth to the picture whatsoever. And you can say this has a filmic look to it, but it's a very dirty filmic look, which is not flattering at all, considering this could have been a beautiful looking image. Colors are muted and vague throughout with zero colors shining or popping off screen. It's a very drab looking color scheme the whole way through. Skin tones are fairly natural, but the black levels are poor and seem bright. The entire movie has problems with banding, video noise, aliasing, and other issues, which makes the viewing experience somewhat of a pain to watch. This video presentation is not the best and might in fact be one of the worst.
This release comes with a lossless DTS-HD 5.1 audio mix even though it says Stereo on the box. But don't let the 5.1 option fool you, because it does not sound like a 5.1 DTS mic at all. Every bit of layered sound here seems to be quiet, soft, and not lively. It's as is someone forgot to turn up all the switches on the soundboard for this film. The only thing that sound full here is the narration. The sound effects are muddled for the most part and barely make their way to the rear speakers.
There are a couple of moments when the sound comes alive, but it's short lived, and happens when their are large crowds mostly. Dialogue is less than thrilling and somewhat clear, but it's not without its issues. There are a few pops and cracks here and there, as well as some shrieking, which was most unwelcome. The score comes through rarely, but when it does, it has a somewhat full sound. But otherwise, the LFE is iffy and the dynamic range is somewhat wide, leaving this audio presentation with low marks.
'Faust' has been done so many times over the years, that it's quite difficult to stand out on your own with this body of work. But Sokurov definitely showed the world a new and intense version of this classic story, guts and all, even if it's a little too abstract for my taste as far as film goes. But the visuals in the film are quite excellent, that I only wish the video quality and sound quality were better than they are presented here. And the zero extras was a bummer too. This is definitely a movie worth seeing by all means, but due to the poor video and audio presentations and the non-existent extras, I'd say rent it first before making your decision.