Lost In Siberia Review

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An English arcaeologist is wrongly imprisoned as a spy in a Russian labour camp.


Lost In Siberia first came to attention as the first British film in Academy Award history to be accepted in the foreign-language film category for at the 1992 Oscars. This, it must be said, may remain its most notable achievement.

The cursory opening scenes find English archaeologist Anthony Andrews (who also produces this Anglo-Soviet co-production) pottering about a dig on the Iranian-Soviet border circa 1940, and generally establishing himself as a jolly good chap. All seems well until the neighbouring Russians mistake him for a spy and Andrews is whisked posthaste to a Siberian labour camp.

Here, ostracised even by his fellow prisoners, he begins a 10-year sentence with only the 10-year old Russian girl who befriends him (a refreshingly syrup-free performance from newcomer Ira Mikhalyova) and the young camp doctor who falls in love with him (award-winning Russian actress Mayorova) to break the otherwise unrelenting grimness of gulag life.

While Russian director Mitta does a creditable enough job of reprising the sort of horrific scenes so depressingly familiar to wartime tales of the indomitability of the human spirit - admittedly some memorably poignant images among them - Andrews' performance, all stiff upper lip and silent suffering, is, on the other hand, a peculiarly unmoving experience.

As the first realistic portrayal of Stalin's labour camps to be filmed in the Soviet Union by Soviet filmmakers (85 per cent of the dialogue is spoken in Russian with English sub-titles), this is clearly an historic and politically pertinent piece of (post-glasnost) filmmaking.

Just to tell it how it was without adding something to our apprehension of why it happened no longer seems sufficient reason to dwell for nearly two hours on what is a difficult, sensitive and misunderstood subject.