As with Russian Ark, Sokurov creates an all encompassing atmosphere through narration and open form montage, yielding a sense of presence throughout the film. Open montage, the use of nondescript (yet no less arresting nor beautiful), non representational images, which resonate both forwards and backwards throughout a film, like refrains in the use of a tonic/key note in music, leaves the film’s sense of time unbroken. Even with cuts and scene changes, the film remains fixed, as if the entirety of the work encapsulates a single moment. Shots such as the swimming boy, the moon, and the soldier’s face serve as the ‘tonic’, providing structure to an otherwise poetic form which resembles music more closely than any visual art, such as theater and painting. Films like The Tree of Life, Werckmeister Harmonies, Mirror, and Man With a Movie Camera are comparable in this regard, as are the films of Nathaniel Dorsky and Robert Bresson, to name a few.
Elegy of a Voyage is perfectly observational and contemplative. A narrator, presumably Sokurov himself, leads us through landscapes, a church, a coffee shop, and a gallery. He serves as a proxy for our own selves, as we travel with him on his voyage. Speaking in a contemplative tone, he observes his surroundings with acute awareness, noticing the shifting moon, sun, and clouds, an angry face, an innocent one, those who are kind, and those who scrutinize. Sokurov charms his films with a great deal of texture. The grainy snow, visible wind, and high contrast are all exceptionally affective. The use of such contrast, together with his DOPs ability to photograph the unimaginable, only deepens his ability to elicit feelings of scale and grandeur. One might be overwhelmed by Sokurov’s distinct aesthetic, which carries a somewhat eerie waviness amidst the mise-en-scene, making objects appear almost living. There is a certain sense of urgency and even psychological or psycho-sexual emergency in the film’s rhythm, bolstered ever more by a cathartic orchestral score and the use of ominous sound effects. Thoughtful philosophy, though rather incidental, provide direction and narrative backing to superb cinematography.