Siberiade (1979)

by | Jan 1, 2007 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Siberiade (1979)

Director: Andrei Konchalovsky
Studio: USSR Exportfilm/Kino K426 (2 DVDs)
Video: 4:3 full screen, color & B&W
Audio: Russian, PCM mono
Subtitles: English
Length: 260 minutes
Rating: ****

Siberiade is a huge historical epic covering much of the history of Russia in the first half of the last century, with a focus on Siberia.  The ambitious portrayal of the Russian/Soviet spirit is divided into four parts and each is prefaced by a section of historical black & white (actually sepia) newsreels of such events as the Russian Revolution and both world wars. The larger struggles of the Russian people are exemplified in the story of three generations of two families in a small and backward village in a remote swampy, forested section of Siberia.

One of the families is the poor Ustyuzhanins and the other is the more monied Solomins, though both are at poverty level in the backward community. The tumultuous history of Russia is reflected in the tumultuous interactions between some of the key members of the two families over the years. All the villagers are faithful to their village and the motherland, but have to face tremendous challenges as the world around them changes radically. One example is the arrival of one of their sons leading a group of revolutionaries who organize the men of the village to continue a log road which the son’s father had begun to build years earlier. One of the men refuses to work on the project and the comrade leader arrests him and sends him down the river for “re-education.”  The arrested man evidently escapes, returns to the village and kills the man who arrested him. The son of the leader is devastated and leaves the village.

Later he fights in World War II and saves the life of a general who is a local man. In the final section he returns to the village as an oil driller on a crew trying to find out if there is oil in the swamp. They drill next to the hallowed village cemetery, upsetting the villagers. It turns out that unless they find oil the entire area is scheduled to be completely flooded by a massive hydroelectric project, so the villagers have a new struggle for survival facing them.

Cinematography is striking, making the Siberian wilderness a fascinating world with many unusual characters, such as the eternal old man, who lives with pet birds and a reindeer.  There is also a suggestion of forest spirits of some sort in the swamp. The contrast with proceedings in Moscow affecting the village is played up in several scenes.  There is a sort of running gag when those fighting for rights for the villagers are criticized by the communist officials in Moscow: They tell them in effect they can’t be banished to Siberia because they’re already there! 

The use of black and white is not just in the historical newsreels but also in some of the indoor or night scenes; perhaps it is just color footage with almost all of the color dropped out.  The soundtrack had a few rough spots as well as a low-level noise which only became apparent when listening on headphones. In general this is a sweeping epic story which effectively dramatizes the struggles of the Russian people by focusing on just a few connected individuals.

 – John Sunier
 

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