Spiritual Voices. From the Diaries of War, 1995

The military world in the former USSR is one of Aleksandr Sokurov’s ongoing interests, both due to his autobiographical connections to the subject (his childhood was spent following the postings of his father, a soldier in the Soviet army) and because it was one of the principal institutions that, for decades, marked the lives of a large part of the Russian population. Spiritual Voices. From the Diaries of a War, Confession. From the Commander’s Diary and Soldier’s Dream are three of his works that revolve around military life. The first is a long-duration film that has been screened at several independent film festivals and contemporary art centres, while the other two are virtually unknown.

In 1994, Aleksandr Sokurov accompanied Russian troops assigned to a frontier military post at the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border. The result was Spiritual Voices. From the Diaries of a War, a 327-minute cinematic meditation on the war and the spirit of the Russian army. Structured into five parts or episodes (38, 33, 87, 77 and 92 minutes, respectively), it is a timeless and elegiac diary filmed on the battlefield. The landscape photography has a privileged role in the film, but the music (which includes works by Mozart, Messiaen and Beethoven) and the sound are also particularly significant. Although the soldiers’ jargon loses some of its semantic and grammatical turns (the original Russian version has been subtitled into five languages), the combination of the animal sounds, sighs and other location sounds with the fog and other visual effects give the film a phantasmagorical feel. Spiritual Voices. From the Diaries of a War brings together all the elements that characterise Sokurov’s films: the long takes, the elaborate filming and image processing methods, the mix of documentary and fiction, the importance of the landscape and the profound metaphysical sense of a filmmaker who brings transcendence to everyday gestures.

Part one tells of the death of Mozart, with music by the composer himself, and includes the reading of a letter that Mozart wrote to a friend, reconstructing the five and a half hours he spent with his mother leading up to her death. The duration of Spiritual Voices is five and a half hours, and the remainder of the film makes no further references to Mozart. The second part focuses on the journey from Russia to Border Post 11 on the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border. Fear never leaves the faces of the young soldiers. With his camera, Sokurov captures their physical toil and their mental desolation, as well as daily rituals such as meals, sharing tobacco, writing letters and cleaning duties. There is no start or end to the dialogues; Sokurov negates conventional narrative structure. The final and longest chapter celebrates the arrival of the New Year, 1995, but the happiness is fleeting. The following day, everything remains the same: the endless waiting at a border post, the fear and the desolation.

In Confession. From the Commander’s Diary, Sokurov films officers from the Russian Navy, showing the monotony and lack of freedom of their day-to-day lives. The dialogue allows us to follow the reflections of a Ship Commander (based on a real person, Serguei Bakai). Sokurov and his crew went aboard a naval patrol ship headed for Kuvshinka, a naval base in the Murmansk region, in the Barents Sea. Confined within the limited space of a ship anchored in Artic waters, the team filmed the sailors as they went about their routine activities. Filming took place in 1998, and the project was conceived for television. Although it was initially structured into five 52-minute parts, Sokurov later reduced the duration of the episodes to 42, 45, 41, 39 and 43 minutes, respectively.

Soldier’s Dream is another Sokurov film that deals with military themes. It contains no dialogue. This film actually came out of the material edited for one of the scenes in part three of Spiritual Voices. Soldier’s Dream was screened at the Oberhausen Film Festival in Germany in 1995 – when Spiritual Voices was still at the editing stage – as Sokurov's homage to the art critic and historian Hans Schlegel, in acknowledgement of his contributions in support of Eastern European filmmakers.

Technical details

Original title:
Spiritual Voices. From the Diaries of War
Registration number:
Sokurov, Aleksandr
Date created:
Date acquired:
MACBA Collection. MACBA Foundation
Object type:
Audiovisual recording
Single-channel video, colour, sound, 326 min 34 s
Edition number:
Ed. 1/10
MACBA Collection. MACBA Foundation. Work purchased thanks to Dinath de Grandi de Grijalbo
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