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VINE VOICEon October 9, 2003
Once one gets past the required Marxist dialectic ("rich people bad, poor people good"), there is nothing less than splendid about this Soviet film. The cinematography alone is breathtaking, and the irony of the more adventuresome characters' constant refrain, "They can't exile you any further than Siberia!" is not lost.
The "underdog" family in the film produces men in each generation who shake their fist at their village, rhetorically, and try to get away, but they are always pulled back somehow. As the revolutionary Nikolai says to his young son Alexei, "It's not a good place, but it's the best place for us."
The acting is first rate. Grief, loss, hope, and faith are equally represented throughout the film. Most of the actors are more low-key than in Hollywood films (a fact that allows the Siberian woodlands and scenes of village life, as well as stock film of national events, to play out much of the story). But they do not lack passion. Especially touching is a scene of a youngster grieving for his father. The young actor gives a performance beyond his years.
The recurrent themes and beautiful scenery and music (folk during the rural scenes, electronic during the sped-up, sepia- tinted stock footage) make the six hours of film very easy to digest. Konchalovsky's Siberiade suggests a cinematic Tchaikovsky symphony, with its alternating poignant romance, pathos, and an ending of hopefulness.
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on August 12, 1999
Not only does this cover historical context but also the cyclical nature of life and the various effects of cultural changes that dramatically change the environment we live and function in. The film manages to address self-discovery, revolution, the fact that things do not truly ever change as well as the incredibly damaging effect of some people's motives and ensuing actions on our environment, both physically and mentally. It does all this without forcing situations and uses the natural pace of the story line to accentuate the points it wishes to express. Truly amazing and despite its length one feels like it came and went like an hour and a half film. Once the film grips you it has the ability to change lives.
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on January 5, 1999
This film takes place in a very remote corner of Siberia, and covers several generations of families living there. There is so much to this historical epic that it is hard to focus on any one point in the movie. Beginning with the remote village and the conflict between two families who have never seen the outside world, it goes on to cover the revolution and two world wars. It also shows the discovery of the great oil and gas fields of western Siberia, but never loses the theme of the interaction between the two main families in the movie and how each event affects their relationships. The movie has a dreamlike and symbolic quality in the style of Tarkovsky, without as much of a dizzying effect, and is never dull.
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on February 10, 2003
I saw this film in Madrid, in 1979... in Russian with Spanish sub-titles and at the time I spoke no Russian and hardly any Spanish. But no matter, it instantly became my all time favorite movie. I saw the original 6 hour version in two evenings... and it wasn't a minute too long. The main "character" is really the natural splendor of Siberia.... it is a visual jewel. I have since seen cut versions... at various film festivals... the 4 hour version, and the 3 hour version. I long to see the full 6 hour version again. Worth every minute.
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on August 23, 2003
Category: Historical drama
Director: Andrei Konchalovsky ("My Name is Ivan" '63, "Tango and Cash" '89, "The Inner Circle" '91,
"The Odyssey" '97, "House of Fools" '03)
Year: 1979
Running time: 206 min (2 tapes)
Rating: R (violence, sexual content)
Grade: A
Starring: Vitaly Solomin, Sergei Shakurov, Nikita Mikhalkov, Ludmila Gurchenko
Winner of 1979 Cannes Film Festival (Special Jury Prize)
My point: One of the last great Russian historical dramas
Over 6 decades of the history of the great Russian land and the country USSR through the lives of two families in a small Siberian village. Two opposite families: Ustuganins, the pure ones; and Solomins, the rich ones. The story of life, love, betrayal, happiness and pain.
This film is very long and very slow. Cinematography is excellent, but it doesn't bother you... it is only helping you to get into the story and the beauty of the Russian land.
If you love good films, if you are interested in history and Russia? A must se.
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on April 25, 2000
I first saw this film when I was 7 years old, in a funky theatre in SF. My parents took me and my best friend and we had no idea what we were about to experience. I am now 30 and can say that certain imagery from this film is as indelibly imprinted on my memory as events that have occurred in my own life. In college I studied film and can trace my earliest desires to make films of my own to the emotions and sensory intoxication of seeing this film. It captures the amazing history of a continent in a very personal and real sense. It terrifies and triumphs and most of all makes the cinematic experience one that you will carry with you for a long time. After 15 years of searching for a copy of this film a friend of mine suggested Amazon.... If only I could get my local artsy-fartsy theatre to screen it.
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on January 16, 2001
"Siberiade" is an epic Russian film which spans three generations and chronicles the lives of two rival Siberian families. It is also a deeply spiritual film which depicts the breathtaking beauty and power of the Siberian land. We see how the people's lifestyle has always adapted to the environment of the taiga, and had remained little affected by the changes wrought by revolution, politics, or war. That is, until the lure of oil brings greed and devastation to their remote village. There is a defining scene early on in the film, in which a lynx has been captured. Hanging upside down, paws trussed to a horizontal pole, jaws wedged apart and muzzled, the cat thrashes and moans in torment. Nearby, in callous oblivion to the suffering of the magnificent animal, the two human protagonists envision their future fortune. The scene is to me profoundly disturbing, first because it is obvious that a real lynx was tortured in the filming of the scene -- not many international productions in 1979 gave thought to cruelty to animals. But the abuse of the beautiful wild cat is symbolic of the theme of the film -- how the wild Siberian land itself will soon be exploited and despoiled. Nature must be dominated in the name of progress. And ultimately the people's ties to their land and the spirits of their ancestors are violently severed. This is how the film affected me; the imagery of its haunting climax remains with me.
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on June 28, 2007
If only 9 reviews is an indication of how many get to see this film it is a real shame and roll over dr shivago if that's all people think of in terms of a russian epic.Initially a slow start but the film keep rolling and getting bigger and deeper the more it went on.Mind-blowing,moving-Its really great and you got to see it...
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on April 24, 2014
This film is probably a master piece. To summarize the history of Russia and the Soviet Union in some four odd hours is in itself a miracle. But what's more it concentrates on Siberia and it follows one little village, Elan, in this region, and in this village essentially three generations of the Ustyuzhanin family, in fact Afanasi, the grand father, then Nikolai the father and Aleksei the son, as opposed to the other family in the village, the Solomins. The first family are the poor ones, the underlings before the revolution, the others are the top family. The revolution of course transforms these relations and we follow the lives of these three men essentially in their village, when they are there since they are often rejected, or they just go away, and then they come back. Dramatically.

Afanasi is the only one who does not come back. He is always there and lives alone with his son and no wife.

Nikolai comes back as a Soviet officer, a Communist cadre and it is dramatic because he had been thrown away at the beginning of the revolution and his paramour, from the other family, had escaped from the village to find him and follow him. It will be a difficult situation since she will be burned to death by the white Cossacks during the civil war after the revolution. He comes back with his young son in the 1930s and is killed by the other paramour of his wife, the one she left behind.

Aleksei is sent to an orphanage, then on one visit to the village and his relatives a recruiting unit at the very beginning of the war against Nazi Germany accepts his enlisting, though he is slightly too young, and he will be a hero in the war, saving his captain all by himself. But in the 1960s he comes back as a master driller to drill for oil in his village because he knows there is some: he discovered it with his father when he was a kid when they marched into the marsh known as the Devil's Mane and there oil was oozing out all over the place and they managed to set it on fire, accidently. Aleksei though wants to leave after a while, with the woman he had taught how to dance when just under 18 before he enlisted, and it is when he finally can go and is going to go, alone because the woman refuses to follow him, he goes say goodbye to his drilling mates and it is then oil is struck and starts bursting out. But it gets on fire for some unimportant reason and the derrick falls and traps one man. All the others go and Nikolai manages the situation to save that man, but Nikolai is caught by the fire and dies.

But the film is a lot more important than that. It is a real film about history. You cannot force history to do something it does not want to do because you have to work with people and people do not necessarily want to change and you have to convince them. It may take three generations to move from the superstition about the Devil's Mane to the acceptance that the village is going to be completely transformed by that oil, and the most dramatic war possible in the meantime after a very dramatic and heroic revolution.

The film then shows how at the beginning of this political revolution Nikolai was naïve and thought it was easy to make people do what they did not want to do, and he is killed just because his rival in love refuses to follow him and kills him. It fails because of some private business and affair, a love story that had not gone the way one of the lovers wanted. Trite, and yet history is also the result of such capricious and unpredictable elements. It will take thirty years and one generation for what was then possible in the 1930s to become a reality in the 1960s.

And in the 1960s we are no longer speaking of that kind of romantic revolution Nikolai had in mind. Aleksei and the other oil drillers around him are confronted to the stubborn desire of the central authorities in Moscow to develop the country and to decide in Moscow what is best for everyone and the small village and the country around is going to become the largest man-made sea with the largest hydroelectric dam and factory on the Volga. It is a pure miracle that makes oil burst out of its underground lair on the very same day, killing Aleksei, as the central committee of the Communist Party or some other bureaucratic authority like this one is meeting to take a decision in favor of the dam. The events stop the dam project in its shoes and in its trail. Unluckily, and Konchalovsky knew all about it in 1979, that was the last moment when history was right against the bureaucrats. After that the USSR entered a very dark time when bureaucracy was the only possible authority and initiative from people was discouraged and even choked, and stagnation started, leading finally to regression and the fall of the USSR. We feel that end the director could not know under the open discourse about the heroism of this Aleksei.

The last but one thing about the film that has to be said is that the director chose to always look at historical events through the intimate eyes of one character or another, mainly the Ustyuzhanins. The truth is in the eyes of the beholders and not in the brains of the leaders. The death of Lenin is actually shown, but the death of Stalin is not and when the older Aleksei revisits as a dream his visit as a child of the Devil's Mane with his father, he gets inside a small hut that had been used by some hypothetical drillers. Aleksei is dreaming of course at this moment and he gets afraid and starts calling his father, as he had done when a child, and to get out of the hut he has to tear up a portrait of Stalin. This scene is of course very symbolical, especially since in the next minute he sinks in some quicksand and drowns, another symbolical act in that dream of his.

The last element I would like to emphasize is the way the director plays on the fake black and white (always in a shade that is not black, sepia or green, etc) to have archives images of some historical moments, Lenin's arrival in Petrograd, his funeral, and later on Gagarin, for example. At the same time the same fake black and white sequences are used to bring the wishes, the dreams, the recollections of the characters. The real time of each episode is in full colors. That gives a real density to the film as if we constantly had a film in the film with flashbacks and at times flash-forwards into the future (rarely) and into dreams (more often).

I must reckon it is not easy to find that film in DVD. I got the US edition in NTSC in Russian with English subtitles. But it was worth it.

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on May 14, 2013
An intriguing film, about a stunning part of the world.
Siberia is so vast, I had trouble imagining how Konchalovsky would tackle his story, which is centred on one small area.
But wherever you lived in those vast tracts your lives would be motivated by the same needs for survival, by people with the pioneering spirit, as is expressed in the plot and characterization as the saga unfolds over 4+ hours.
My interest was caught as the film opened and I was still avidly absorbed with story, setting, characters as it ended.
A truly fascinating film which, as so many years have passed since it's production, has acquired a place in the history of the settlement of Siberia before and during the Soviet Union.
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