Sunday, 17 February 2013

Scenes from "Zateryannyy v Sibiri" [1991 USSR, UK]

I'm stating the obvious - a film like "Zateryannyy v Sibiri" [Eng. Title: Lost in Siberia] would have been unthinkable in the USSR, were it not for Glasnost. It was nevertheless the first authoritative portrayal of the workings of the Gulag - whatever us westerners knew until then, about conditions in these infamous labour camps, were at best - sketchy, and often coated with Cold War propaganda.

These correctional facilities housed people like convicted thieves, murderers, corrupt officials, prisoners of war, foreign spies, political (and even potential) dissidents, but invariably also included unfortunate innocents. The conditions in many of these prisons were as brutal as Nazi concentration camps, but some 'special' camps around the Kolyma region of north-eastern Siberia were certainly among the most dreaded, notorious right until the mid 1950's - few prisoners who passed through these camps lived to tell the tale. In one such labour camp is this film set in.

Andrew Miller (Anthony Andrews), a British archaeologist working in Persia towards the end of second World War is mistaken for a American namesake by Soviet troops winding-down their operations, and is kidnapped to Moscow for 'questioning'. Embarrassed that they've abducted and tortured an innocent, but also fearing a diplomatic row, and their own heads if he's let go, Andrew's existence is put through the metaphorical shredder, by despatching him to a labour camp. He finds himself having to not only survive the harsh conditions and brutal regime there, but also contend and coexist with criminal psychopaths with a very short fuse.

In that bleak world would however also be a ray of sunshine and warmth in the form of little Lilka (Ira Mikhalyova), a resourceful young girl looking after her terminally ill father. Andrew grows attached to her, and on an occasion even saves her life after she's given up for dead by the heartless authorities. Anna (Yelena Mayorova), a widowed doctor, will nurse Lilka back to health, even if Lilka would wrongly blame Anna for failing to care for her father, who'd succumb to his illness. Andrew and Anna also become secret lovers, much to the fury of the camp officer, Captain Malakhov (Vladimir Ilyin) - he wants to marry Anna. In revenge, he despatches Andrew to Kolyma...

Apart from the confusing epilogue voiced-over by Andrew - which seems to have been added as an afterthought for commercial considerations - the film is a steadfastly honest portrayal of life in Gulag camps during the darkest days of Stalinist rule. The plot and characters are convincingly real, and you are forced to feel for the main characters desperately trying to retain their humanity amidst the savagery. It may be a difficult film to watch, but it is also a beautiful human drama, well executed, with heartfelt performances by all the cast. The film is Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [All Regions]


The Nudity: Anthony Andrews, Yelena Majorova, and others
The film features several scenes of male, female, and child nudity. None of them are particularly pleasant though, and even the one sensual scene between Andrew and Anna is somewhat underwhelming. But these scenes are nevertheless integral to the film's plot, and has to be seen in context.

Anthony Andrews, Ira Mikhalyova, and Yelena Majorova in Zateryannyy v Sibiri


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