Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sun Feb 26, 2017 5:15 pm 
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A Frenchman deep in the Russian wild escapes from urban life

Adapted from the bestselling book by Sylvain Tesson, this movie is beautiful and has a lovely (if sometimes intrusive) score. But it has not teeth. Quite unintentionally I'm sure, it makes the most challenging ordeals look relatively easy. The handsome Raphaël Personnaz, as the French adventurer, Teddy, who's shut down his life in Paris for this challenging six-month solitary idyll, has a quality of lightness and natural elegance about him. He was just right to play heir to the throne the Duc d'Anjou in Tavernier's The Princess of Montpensier, or the lighthearted political speechwriter in the same director's The French Minister. He could even be right for this. he is; he does sterling work; and has told how he loved the book before being engaged to participate in the film.

Yet here's something in the writing and the editing that lightens the pain and strife. After all it's Siberia in the middle of winter Teddy has chosen to go to, in a little cabin by the shore of Lake Baikal. A key moment is the one when Teddy gets lost in a blizzard and collapses face down in the snow. This is when Aleksei (Evgeniy Sidikhin), a Russian fugitive who's committed murder and hides in the foret, picks Teddy up and slings him over his shoulder like a blanket. This makes it look like Teddy has a charmed life indeed. And Aleksei, a character not in Tesson's book invented to liven up the film, becomes a foil, friend, and comfort.

Some have said this story will be whatever you make of it, and this is true: it may seem utterly enchanting, a fantasy you delight to escape into; or it can be an ordeal you rejoice not to have to face. Or it may seem beautiful and exciting but rather distant, as seen through a cracked glass. But it's interesting that according to the French movie website AlloCiné the viewers like this quite a lot more than the critics did (4.0 viewers vs. 3.4 critics). In critical terms, Nebbou's film falls short of its material; but viewers dream with it. However it's interesting to me what Eric Libiot wote in L'Express: "The strange impression that emerges after watching the film is that the making of it must have been incredible, while the result, on the other hand, fails to convey the exaltation Teddy sought and found for sic months."

In the Forests of Siberia/Danes les forêts de Sibérie, 105 mins., debuted at Cabourg 8 Jun. 2016, opening theatrically in Switzerland and France 15 Jun. Screened for this review as part of the Unifrance-Film Society of Lincoln Center 1-12 Mar. 2017 Rendez-Vous with French Cinema.

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