Saturday, 9 April 2016

A film review: "Territory" [2015 Russia]

Aleksandr Melnik's "Territoriya" [Eng. Title: Territory] is a remake of an earlier Soviet film about the Siberian Gold Rush of the late fifties and early sixties. Of course, the term needs to be applied rather selectively, because it was only the Soviet state involved in this particular 'rush'.

A scene from "Territory" [2015 Russia] A scene from "Territoriya" [2015 Russia]
A scene from "Territory" [2015 Russia] A scene from "Territoriya" [2015 Russia]

The film's intended focus is a celebrated geologist's attempts to persuade teams of geologists working on various assignments in the rugged Siberian tundra to get involved in prospecting for gold. He succeeds to some extent, thanks to the pioneering and adventure spirit of those involved.

We see tenacious men endure extreme conditions in the northeastern corner of Siberia - this is no place for the faint-hearted; some set out on foot, even unaccompanied, on treks to desolate barren lands, where they have to overcome ice, rapids, and other inaccessible terrain to reach their destination. Some of them don't quite succeed despite their valiant efforts, while some persevere, and discover gold.

The film's strengths: Firstly, it's the location, location, location; its the abundance of breathtaking and awe inspiring landscapes - and one will simply run out of superlatives in describing the unspoilt, untamed, and unforgiving form of nature that's so lovingly captured in film. It also puts into perspective the insignificance of man, and yet his heroic effort in battling himself in 'taming' it. The other strength is its main cast, who perform reasonably well.

The film's weaknesses: Unfortunately, there are several, and they're mainly to do with the narrative, like the totally unnecessary voice-over narration. It distracts from a film that could so easily have been contemplative and poetic. I had to turn off my subtitles for a slightly different reason though; it prevented me from appreciating the sheer majesty of the visuals we're seeing. And I knew I won't be missing anything important, because the droll female voice narrating the film was, for the most part, explaining what the persons on screen were thinking or feeling, like in a comic strip.

Another problem with the film, surprisingly and against the grain of what was commented above, is its rather 'mainstream' cinematography. Geology is an important focus for the film, and yet we barely find an appreciation for it in the way these landscapes, which are also geologically interesting, are depicted - it's all seen with a commoner's eye. Even if one allows for the fact that this is a feature film as opposed to a documentary, it wasn't aiding the narrative. But if you enjoy natural landscapes, especially anything above and beyond the Arctic circle, you'll love this film - only, remember to switch off the subtitles!


The Nudity: Grigoriy Dobrygin (?), and Tamara Obutova
The film starts with a brief yet funny sequence, when the dogs bolt along with the sleigh when their master slept. He wakes up and runs after them in the nude. There is also a scene featuring an Eskimo girl (Tamara Obutova) going about her chores half-nude, apparently in accordance to tradition. She puts on a shirt only after noticing that the stranger that they rescued had woken up.

Tamara Obutova nude in "Territoriya" [2015 Russia]


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