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I first came across the name Alexander Sokurov in an almost empty cinema in wintry Berlin in 1995. I was there to see a five-hour documentary film called Spiritual Voices, shot over a period of one and a half years on the battle front of the Tajikistan civil war. The lights went down and a trance-like elegy for dead and dying soldiers unspooled. Not one of the clich?s of war appeared on screen. It had a 19th-century sensibility and the intensity of silent cinema. Shots lasted for minutes. The dust of the desert seemed to enter the camera.

The year…

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