Aka Educazione siberiana
Original running time: 110 minutes
Based on the novel by Nicolai Lilin (ed. Einaudi)
Produced by Riccardo Tozzi, Marco Chiminez, Giovanni Stabilini for Cattleya and RAI Cinema
Release date: 28-02-2013
Director: Gabriele Salvatores
Cast: Arnas Fedaravicius (Kolima), Vilius Tumalavicius (Gagarin), Eleanor Tomlinson (Xenja), Jonas Trukanas (Mel), Vitalij Porsnev (Vitalic), Peter Stormare (Ink), John Malkovich (Nonno),
Story: Nicolai Lilin (novel), Sandro Petraglia, Stefano Rulli
Screenplay: Stefano Rulli, Sandro Petraglia, Gabriele Salvatores
Cinematogrpahy: Italo Petriccione
Music: Mauro Pagani
Coming from Oscar winning director Gabriele Salvatores and with a script by Stefano Rulli and Sandro Petraglia (who were behind Romanzo criminale and My Brother is an Only Child among others), Siberian Education is something of a disappointment. Based on the autobiographical novel by Nicolai Lilin, it tells the story of a young boy, Kolyma, who grows up in the criminalized society of an encampment of Siberians who have been exiled to a misbegotten town specially created to house ‘antisocial elements’ in the arse end of Russia, alongside several other equally unwanted minority groups (Georgians, Jews, etc).
It’s a fascinating situation, and the story starts well, as Kolyma (an artistically minded kid) and his friends Gagarin (the trainee psycho), Mel (the fat one) and Vitalic (the one with glasses) are introduced to the Siberian way of life: thievery, disrespect for the Russian authorities, honour among their tribe, getting as many tattoos as possible. Their teacher for much of this is Grandfather Kuzya (John Malkovich, having fin with his most unlikely accent to date), ably assisted by Ink (Peter Stormare). But then the boys start growing up, and things become more complex.
So far so Romanzo criminale, and that’s great. But from this point things start to go a bit wrong. Kolyma befriends a childlike girl called Xenya (Eleanor Tomlinson), many characters spend time in one jail or another and the melodramatic content comes to the fore. It all ends up with a thoroughly underwhelming finale as Kolyma and Gagarin come to a climactic showdown in the Caucasus mountains.
There are some great moments in this, and the care with which Salvatores and his crew depict the Siberian home and lifestyle is admirable, but unfortunately the film is hidebound by its over complex structure. The flashbacks become rather intrusive and could have done with better management; and by being too weighted to events at the beginning of its character’s lives rather than leading up to the end. A bit more attention given to the falling out of the two protagonists and the events afterwards would have aided the pacing, and many important characters (Mel, Kuzya, Ink) are discarded towards the end. It starts well, in other words, but doesn’t quite develop into what it could have developed into.
Shot in Lithuania with a largely local cast, Salvatores also proves to be another director who’s not entirely at home filming in English as opposed to his native Italian. The rhythm of the dialogue is all wrong, and it plays like a film which has been not-particularly-well dubbed rather than one which was shot in English (in other words, it probably works better if you watch the dubbed Italian version with English subtitles, which isn’t the way it should work).