- The Hermitage Dwellers, and: Hermitage Niks: A Passion for the Hermitage
What a powerful film this is! I cannot recommend it highly enough. Having said that, I should explain that these two titles (Hermitage-Niks: A Passion for the Hermitage and The Hermitage Dwellers) are actually two versions of the same film, one of which is more detailed than the other. In a somewhat different edited form, The Hermitage Dwellers is contained within Hermitage-Niks, so you end up with both by buying the first, along with additional footage. I should also explain that the film's subject (sort of) is the world renowned Russian art museum, The Hermitage, housed in the palace of Czarina Catherine the Great in St. Petersburg. I say "sort of" because (as its titles indicate) the film's subject is not so much the vast palace complex, the Hermitage's massive art holdings, nor its history, but rather all those things (and more) in relation to [End Page 103] the people who currently work there (for low salaries) in such essential capacities as curator, art handler, attendant, head of maintenance and so on. The film is made up of candid yet gracefully edited talks with various workers (from the young to those in their 80s); behind-the-scenes filming of the museum's halls, of vast stairwells and storage rooms, of the Hermitage collection, of visiting tourists and schoolchildren, of museum personnel at work, and of dining and dancing on Victory Day; and of disquieting archival footage about a century of constant political strife in Russian daily life, from the Russian Revolution of 1917 to the post-Soviet era. Somehow, by whatever miracle, this place and its treasures have always survived and continue to do so now through the generous work of the museum staff.
(Reprinted by permission from Ballast Quarterly Review 21, No. 2, Winter 2005-2006.)