By Troy Patterson
Updated September 19, 2003 at 04:00 AM EDT

A French aristocrat and his unseen companion tour the Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, drifting from room to room and streaming from century to century — variously crunching across snow with Catherine the Great, stepping through art galleries with contemporary visitors, and encountering all manner of spectacle. Director Alexander Sokurov captures all this in one continuous take, a lovely orchestral stunt that denies us the conventional satisfactions of character and plot and therefore overwhelms any intended meditation on Russian history. Rather, the movie’s pleasures are of enchanting opulence; it’s a sleight-of-hand epic. EXTRAS Both a documentary and a commentary tell you how the filmmakers did it; a short film on the Hermitage tells you why.