Siberia: Film Review

Joana Preiss' unscripted experimental drama demands a certain degree of indulgence and curiosity from viewers.

She (Joana Preiss) is an actress, model and avant-garde artiste making her first feature movie. He (Bruno Dumont) is a celebrated filmmaker, the director of demanding arthouse movies, appearing in front of the camera for the first time. She and he hop on a train - the legendary Transsiberian - at Vladivostok, on Russia's Pacific seaboard, and head west, each armed with a light digital camera. They're in a relationship and their project is to film themselves as they while away the time talking about love, desire and the art of making movies. It sounds like a surefire recipe for boredom and certainly anyone seeking action or drama should look elsewhere. Siberia is an intensely self-regarding experimental movie whose prospects as a money-making exercise are close to zero but which is not without interest.

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In her press notes Preiss says that she has edited the material from the two cameras - the equivalent of 24 hours of filming - into a story, a fictionalised account of their relationship. Preiss and Dumont are playing themselves, or playing at being themselves. Their dialogue is apparently unscripted, by turn amorous, bantering, tetchy, hectoring, a tad pretentious. There are occasional intervals of cinéma-vérité as the train stops over at towns along the way, allowing the couple to escape the cramped conditions of their single compartment and spend a night in a hotel or go clubbing.

The borderline between reality and role-playing, between emotional truth and simulation, is a blur. Unstated either in the film or the press notes, it seems that the couple's relationship has since ended. It's unclear whether what we're seeing onscreen is the cause of the ending or the process itself.

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There are moments of sly humour, the best coming near the beginning: as the couple are preparing to board the train, the station's public address system is playing the theme song from Claude Lelouch's lush romance classic A Man and a Woman. The movie ends with a long, melancholic tailing off as the couple leave the train and head into the Siberian forests, finally running out of words. The images of nature and clouds have a dreamy quality that raises the movie out of the home-movie category that it had appeared confined to. Siberia demands a certain degree of indulgence that not everyone will be prepared to grant it, but considered in its own restricted terms and viewed as a curiosity it works.

Production companies: Elegie Films, L'Age d'Or

Cast: Joana Preiss, Bruno Dumont

Director: Joana Preiss

Executive producer: Johanna Bourson 

Photography: Joana Preiss, Bruno Dumont

Editors: Clemence Diard, Joana Preiss 

Sales: Capricci Films

No MPAA rating

Running time: 82 minutes

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