Director: Patrick Mark
Patrick Mark’s documentary FABERGÉ: A LIFE OF ITS OWN is another in a recent series bringing art and culture events to life on the big screen. Narrated in the reverential tones of Samuel West, FABERGÉ explores the colourful history of the famous Russian jewellers, first founded in 1842, through archive footage, specialist curators and family members.
In St Petersburg, German immigré Gustav Faberge founded and founded a lucrative business by supplying the Russian Royal family with thousands of gifts to offer on their extensive trips abroad or when entertaining visiting dignatories. Designed by Carl Gustav himself but crafted by his prized Finnish and Scandinavian craftsmen, the docs shows how the family name gradually became a byword for opulence of the highest order. In contrast to the sprawling poverty of early 20th century St Petersburg, Fabergé workers were given their own personal trademarks and well-looked after with medical care and even a canteen.
Inspired by nature, animals or significant events, the pieces were intricately crafted using precious stones, gold and the trademark ‘guillochet’ enamel that glowed with an alluring lumiscence evocative of the sunlight reflecting on St Petersburg’s stately buildings and palaces. The first egg appeared in 1885, fashioned in gold and white enamel, an Easter gift from Tzarevitch Nicholas to his wife.
Loosely linked to World historical events and enlivened by remarkable footage of the era, Patrick Mark shows how the business nearly crumbled during the war years, leaving Gustav to move to Lausanne where he died broken-hearted. His son Carl Gustav took over the firm as Lenin rose to power and in the ensuing devastation of the city opportunist and businessman Armand Hammer was able to acquire many Fabergé items at cut price. But returning to a depression-hit America, his goods are declared almost worthless as “nobody wants a Tsarina’s ruby-studded swizzle stick” during the crisis ridden twenties. His luck changes when wealth returns in the more prosperous 1930s and the pieces garnered prestige from their royal connection. In a fascinating twist, many of the jewels served to ‘bullet-proof’ the garments of the besieged Russian royal family: they had been carefully stitched into the fabric and their owners survived the re-cocheting bullets.
Of those interviewed, Tatiana Faberge is the most interesting as she recounts her sadness at the family name becoming synonymous with bleach and cheap perfume during the sixties but the family are currently involved in trying to resurrect the Fabergé to its original cachet. Craftsmanship has moved on and new materials and more modern styles are refreshing the Fabergé look. At times a commercial edge seeps in to the film making this feel like an extended advertisement for the brand – particularly in these final scenes. That said, this is a well-made and engrossing piece of filmmaking with some fascinating archive footage of the Romanovs and Russia during the First World War making you want to revisit Franklin Schaffner’s epic 1971 drama Nicholas and Alexandra. MT
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