Aleksandr Sokurov was born in Podorvikha in Siberia, the son of a World War II veteran. His family moved often during his youth, but in 1970 Sokurov moved to Gorki, where he enrolled in history at Gorki University. While there, he worked as an assistant television director, and advanced his academic and directing career into, respectively, the history faculty at Gorki University and to directing for the Gorki television station.
In 1975 he moved to Moscow, after being accepted into the prestigious State Film School, VGIK. It was here that he came into contact with the great Soviet filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, who was to become something of a mentor to the upcoming Sokurov.
After graduating in 1979 and with Tarkovsky’s help, he started work at the second-largest Soviet film studio, Lenfilm in Leningrad. Sokurov had completed his first feature A Lonely Human Voice in 1978; however, it was considered unfavourable to the Party, and, at Lenfilm, Sokurov was restricted mainly to documentary filmmaking. When A Lonely Human Voice was eventually released in 1987, as a result of President Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost, or ‘openness’ policy, it garnered a certain amount of international acclaim, and made Sokurov’s a name to watch.
Since then, he has become something of a regular on the international film circuit, seen as both an artistic and spiritual heir to his one-time mentor Tarkovsky. His 1997 Mother and Son won three of the most prestigious prizes, including the Andrei Tarkovsky Award, at the Moscow International Film Festival of that year.
Sokurov’s next four films each premiered in Official Competition at Cannes. The first two Moloch (1999), and Taurus (2001), form the first installments of a trilogy on twentieth century leaders: Moloch, focussing on the relationship between Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun, was awarded Prix du Scénario, or best screenplay; while Taurus centres on Lenin.
These were followed by his most popular work, the stunning, single-take Russian Ark in 2002, and lastly Father and Son (2003) which was regarded as controversial as many critics perceived an incestuous homosexual relationship between its protagonists, a claim Sokurov has vehemently denied.
The concluding episode of his trilogy, The Sun (2004), profiling the diplomatic shame of a defeated Emperor Hirohito, was completed in 2004.