This year the Russian Revolution 1917, an event changed the world forever, is 100 years old. So what better way to commemorate than with an real Fabergé Imperial Easter egg made in the year of the Revolution but never finished? Or maybe not! If you think again you will easily realise that the legacy from the notorious Russian artist and jeweler Peter Carl Fabergé is in reality an insult to Lenin and Trotsky, and the antithesis of everything they ever stood for.
The doc Fabergé: a Life of its Own is an insightful and yet uncritical investigative piece of cinema looking at the early days of the Russian artist, his death drowned in despondency shortly after the Revolution all the way to recent days, when the House of Fabergé is still synonymous with extreme luxury. The movie blends images from the imperial Russian with interviews with business associates and surviving members of the Fabergé family. It also includes excerpts of recent television commercials and films like Octopussy (John Glen, 1983), which feature the Fabergé brand (which can now be found in perfumes and a myriad of other products). Gawping Americans enchanted by royalty are now amongst the big fans.
The movie reveals some interesting aspects of Russian history and contradictions. For example, despite the imperial nationalism, Saint Petersburg is a deeply European city: its fashion is French, its architecture is Italian and its is name German borrowed via the Baltic neighbours. And the doc has a very British accent throughout: the narrator sounds very British, many of the client are British and so is Sara Fabergé, the artist’s great-grandniece. In a way, Fabergé’s legacy and his hometown Saint Petersburg are a testament that culture of the various European countries (including Russia) is hardly inextricable.
The problem with the film is that it celebrates the taste of the super wealthy without criticising it. At one point, it does point out that the population of Russian was living in poverty without heat and sanitation before the Revolution, but it fails to delve into more detail. It doesn’t address Fabergé political allegiances and social concerns (or lack thereof). It’s as if the artist and his stinking rich clients lived in a bubble detached from reality. Which is probably the case anyway. It reminded me a little of the 2015 Channel 4 doc The Most Expensive Foods in the World, which was chastised in the media for celebrating vulgar taste.
Instead you will gain plenty of insight into gilder and enamel technique, the advanced engineering that allows for the encrusting of diamonds in a gosling hatching an egg (both the egg and the bird are mobile). You will also learn about the Chinese flowers which inspired Fabergé, the garland and the froufrou, the expensive gems used for eyes of the animals, and so on. All carefully polished and immaculately polished gems. Not the kind of stuff we like at DMovies. We tend to prefer dirty and unpolished gems.
Fabergé’s talent, flare and craftsmanship remain undisputed. But he’s the epitome of futility, a morbid reminder of the bizarre taste of the super rich, and most crude and accurate expression of capitalism. Inequality is recast as something virtuous. One of the last creations of the House of Fabergé is a peacock watch with moving feather et al – isn’t that just what you ALWAYS wanted? As an American television presenter puts it (in a clip featured in the doc): “this is the perfect present for someone who has everything”. Or for someone who has more money than sense. In a nutshell, Fabergé is the last symbol we need in a world increasingly unequal, where just eight people have more wealth than half of the world’s population. It’s as if the last Emperor of Russia Nicholas II reincarnated in an American multi-billionaire. Just a little bit of sad history repeating.
The three-year-old movie Fabergé: a Life of its Own is being relaunched this week in order to coincide with Easter. The DVD at £10.99 and the Blu-ray at £12.99 would make a perfect Easter present for your friends who don’t need anything – just click here for more information. Otherwise you can take delight in the equally luxurious and yet free to watch movie trailer below: