(fr) wrote: All the Epic One Sitting Can Take When we in the US, and I'm assuming people in a lot of other places, too, think of Siberia, mostly we think of frozen, inaccessible stretches of desolate wasteland. Those of us who have read any of the works of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn have a hard time picturing it any other way. (Well, anyway, the one I read.) After all, there is poor Ivan Denisovich, watching the thermometer and wondering if he will be sent into that horrific cold to build for the Greater Glory of the Soviet State and all that. There's the fact that no one got to the site of Tunguska--no one bothered to go to the site of Tunguska--for any kind of scientific study for well over ten years, and when Leonid Kulik finally got funding for a proper study, it was closer to twenty, and it was incredibly difficult for him to get there even then. Siberia, to us, is really big and really desolate, and there's nothing there, and no one lives there except prisoners in the Gulag system. That's shut down; no one lives there now. Except our story is set in the small town of Yelan (the subtitles call it Elan; Wikipedia disagrees) out in the taiga, the northern forests. It's a marshy part of the region, and the people have lived there for time out of mind, eking out a living from hunting and gathering, it seems. There may be farming; if there is, we never see it. Probably there is fishing. They live there in the forest, untouched, behind their wooden palisade. Our two families are the Ustyuzhanins and the Solominas, who are both rivals and, it seems, intermarried. Certainly there isn't much of anybody else out there. (I will tell you now that I don't remember everyone's name, and neither IMDB nor Wikipedia are terribly helpful on the subject.) Afansy(?) Ustyuzhanin (Vladimir Simonov) is, for reasons even he cannot explain, building a road through the forest to a place called the Devil's Mane. He and his road and his son, Nikolai (played by three people, including Yevgeni Leonov-Gladyshev and, interestingly, Vitaly Solomin), are what start the plot, which goes from the pre-Revolutionary days and on to the sixties. There is much to recommend this movie, which seems to have actually been a miniseries, at least in intent. There are four parts to it, each set in a different decade. (Actually, Part I has both the teens and twenties, I think.) The town progresses through many changes in the region's history. It is when the Soviets start taking an interest that things really change. The changes only go faster when oil is found, or speculated to be there. On the other hand, by then, there are essentially no young people left. The young men had all been taken away to the war, and now, the young people have started just going to the city, leaving essentially nothing but old women. And, of course, the men who come to drill will not stay, even if the village survives. It had lasted for hundreds of years; the start of the film seems the end of the village. I was not, on the other hand, terribly fond of the score. After all the meticulous attention given to costumes and sets, having the cheesy synth music in the background seems kind of out of place. Or really out of place. And the costumes and sets are really impressive. As you should know by now, one of my standards for costuming in this sort of movie is not merely how appropriate it is to the piece but how lived-in it looks. These are clearly clothes people wear all the time. These are coats worn every winter, and every day of every winter, until they are too tattered to use anymore. (How accurate are they? I don't know enough about clothing in the region to say.) These are houses built to survive the weather, a wall built to keep out whatever may be out there in the forest. And the road into the trees is what is, in the United States, called a corduroy road, a road paved in logs to keep it above the mud. Just a track through the trees would return to forest very quickly and wouldn't be much good except in the height of summer anyway. The release here is by Kino, the bastard stepchild company of the Criterion Collection. The reason I think of it as such is that the releases are similar in genre, but Criterion is of much higher quality. This is not the greatest print--or, if it is, the print needs to be remastered. The special features--well, that would imply that there are special features. (There's a photo gallery; that doesn't count.) Oh, I'm glad there's a release at all, and I'm very glad to have had the chance to see it. (Thank you, Netflix! Also Lonewulf, who recommended it to me.) Better Kino than no one at all, and I suspect that, if more people knew the company even existed, their releases would be cleaned up. Though they might have to go the Criterion "movies that don't really deserve it" route, alas. I think Kino sees itself as preserving cinematic treasures more swept under the rug than the classics at Criterion. It's a laudable goal. I just wish they were doing a better job at it.