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Siberiade

Kino // Unrated // January 9, 2007
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Svet Atanasov | posted December 25, 2006 | E-mail the Author
The Film:

A massive 260 min. saga following the history of two rivaling families, the Solomins and the Ustyuzhanins, Andrei Konchalovsky's (Maria's Lovers) nostalgic Сибириада a.k.a Siberiade (1979) arrives on DVD in the United States after being released earlier this year by Russian distrib Ruscico.

Siberiade covers more than six decades of Russian history beginning in the early 1900s all the way to the late 60s. Each decade is reserved for one of the numerous main protagonists in this story (the feud between the Solomins and the Ustyuzhanins is inherited by their sons and daughters) as they indirectly symbolize the evolution of the Soviet state. From the victory elation in the post war years, to the modernization of the Far East, and finally the "superiority" years from the Brezhnev era, this is indeed an ambitious project which as far as I am concerned creates a very realistic portrait of the now defunct USSR.

Providing a detailed summation of the story behind Siberiade is an impossible task - there are too many characters and too many secondary plots to follow here. In fact, the message Konchalovsky strives to deliver is better grasped precisely due to the fact that the viewer never truly gets the opportunity to embrace one of the main protagonists. Just as the Soviet state slowly evolves so are the Solomins and Ustyuzhanins, from peasants to passionate communists, to disillusioned apparatchiks.

Presented with three different color schemes (a yellowish sepia look, a natural look, and black and white) Siberiade is also the work of a man I sense was both bitter and angry. Why? Because Konchalovsky's camera does not shy away from showing what really took place behind the "humane" facade of Soviet socialism. From the secret Politburo meetings with its silver-haired delegates to the absurdity of Soviet industrial planning (pay close attention to the archive footage heralding each decade, the workers' enthusiasm is indicative for the Soviet propaganda machine, the manner in which it functioned) to the realization amongst those living in Siberia that Moscow has forgotten them, everything in this film screams disappointment. And while those who saw Siberiade in the USSR upon its release must have "appreciated" the grand enthusiasms oozing from the screen I am most certain the Cannes Jury members must have identified something else (Siberiade won the Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1979) a painful and unbearable disenhcantment tormenting Konchalovsky's soul.

Finally, Siberiade also boasts a stellar cast that teams up some of the biggest names from 70s-80s Soviet cinema: Lyudmila Gurchenko (A Rouge's Saga), Nikita Mikhalkov (Ochi chyornye), Sergei Shakurov (Vkus Khleba), Natalya Andrejchenko (Prosti), Vitali Solomin (Dr. Watson in the popular Russian TV remake of The Hound of Baskervilles).

How Does the DVD Look?

Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 Siberiade appears to have been sourced from the Ruscico PAL disc. This unfortunately results in what we refer to as an improperly converted PAL-NTSC port with the mandatory for such transfers "ghosting". Furthermore, the actual print also reveals plenty of scratches, dust specs, and minor debris. There is also some color instability (this has nothing to do with the varied color scheme the film offers) which is easily noticeable during the second part of the film. I also see plenty of digital noise which many will likely be bothered with as it is most definitely intrusive as far as the overall picture quality is concerned.

With all of this being said, I would like to take a moment here and suggest that perhaps not all of the issues observed in this print should be associated with KINO. Let's put aside the fact that they did not bother converting their print properly. This is surely inexcusable and I shall reflect it in my final chart evaluation. What I refer to above has to do with the state of the actual print which KINO appear to have copied. I do not own the Ruscico produced disc yet (but I am planning on having it shortly) but I must guess that what we see on this R1 disc is surely present on the Russian disc as well. I know that many of their restored prints of Soviet films from the early 70s and 80s reveal a great deal of deterioration and I must conclude that perhaps Siberiade is yet another one of those ill-fated pictures poorly managed by ex-Soviet state archivists.

Finally, this is certainly a disc which you should consider if you are not region-free or your current budget does not allow you to import the pricey Russian disc. The film is viewable and slightly above the average mark in terms of technical presentation so I would not hesitate recommending it.

Siberiade is spread over two discs as parts one and two appear on disc one and parts three and four appear on disc two.

How Does the DVD Sound?

Presented with its original Russian Dolby Digital Stereo track the audio is rather good. There are no disturbing drop-outs of hissing that I could detect although there are scenes where I hear some unevenness (again, it is impossible to tell why). Overall however I would not have any reservations, again, in recommending this presentation to you. With optional, very well done, English subtitles.

Extras:

Three is absolutely nothing to be found on this disc.

Final Words:

I truly hoped that this film together with Sergei Gerasimov's Tichny Don a.k.a And Quiet Flows the Don (1957) will make it to the US courtesy of another, more respectful, label. Now having seen what KINO have done I am pleased that the film is finally here for fans to see but the actual presentation is nothing really to rave about: it is average.

I consider this to be one of the best Soviet films from the late 70s and to see it given such an ordinary treatment is a bit disappointing. I would think that given the status Andrei Konchalovsky has amongst Western critics it would have been fitting if at least KINO did a small retrospective on him, included a few interviews. Out of respect for what this picture stands for and for the memories KINO brought back to me I decided to recommend it. For the best version on the market however I suggest you opt for the Russian 3DVD set (English friendly) which would eliminate the conversion issues described earlier.

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