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Siberian Education

Pubblicato da
Laura Mazzolini
il 02 ottobre 2013
The last shocking movie the several-time awarded Italian director Gabriele Salvatores about the criminal underworld of Urkas community in Siberia.

Educazione siberiana (Siberian Education), by the several-time awarded Italian director Gabriele Salvatores, is a shocking exposé of an extraordinary criminal underworld. Based on the same-named book by Nicolai Lilin, the story is set in the extreme north-east of Russia, in the small republic of Transnistria, where the Urka community lives. In River Low the inhabitants call themselves ‘honest criminals’ and they live by robberies, extortion and illegal activities. And old Siberians Urkas motto says ‘Some enjoy life, some suffer it; we fight it’ and fighting is the only way for survival and being loyal to the community and it's law in a harsh world where honor and pride are the only shield in a continuous swing between rigor and violence, courage and deprivation.

Siberia and the stunning nature of Tayga, painted with delicacy and poetry, frame this story, set between the end of the eighties and the nineties, immediately after the backdrop of Communism, the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the advent of globalization. A complex historical period, during which multi-racial criminal organizations, corrupt police force and the Russian Mafia replaced the Government in leading the country.

The two main characters are played by new actors: Arnas Fedaravičius and Vilius Tumalavičius, playing Kolima, the devoted student and Gagarin, the restless childhood friend ending up in jail at very young age. Beside them, a stunning interpretation by John Malkovich, playing grandfather Kuzja, honored criminal and Kolima's metor; and Peter Stormare, as Ink, the Tattoos master, fond in the ancient and almost magical art of writing the story of men on their bodies.

Kolima and Gagarin receive a traditional Siberian education in various disciplines: weapons training, the rituals of the criminal world and the traditions of the criminal fraternities, all against the background of strict Orthodox Catholic faith and practice. The strict nature of this meant that even some illegal activities were banned by the clan, such as prostitution or the use and sale of drugs. But when they grow up, they choose opposite paths - Kolima becoming custodian of that tradition, honour and criminal loyalty before all, and Gagarin, the rebel, the young wolf that has left the herd to bend to the uses of man, leaving that loyalty behind and losing himself in the process. How intersected by a red thread of destiny the lives of the two boys are, intertwined and yet separated due to historical events and personal choices until the tragic end.

Salvatores describes the story with vivid images that stick in the memory. Sequences such as the prisoners launching messages from the windows for their families in the night like sparks of fire, the release of doves and the impossible love of the two protagonists for the doctor's daughter, the beautiful but mental Xenja, protected and avenged by the clan as the bearer of the 'Word of God' and, as such , 'Gift of God' herself.
Similarly epic is the sequence where Grandfather Kuzja teaches Kolima to never be eager with these words: ‘It's crazy to want too much. A man cannot own more than his heart can love’.

Salvatores   was born in Naples (Italy) and he debuted as a theatre director in 1972 in Milan. He started his career in cinema the same year with Marrakech Express, which was followed in 1990 by Turné that was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1990 Cannes Film Festival. Both films shared a group of actor-friends, including Diego Abatantuono and Fabrizio Bentivoglio. In 1991, Salvatores won an Academy Award as best foreign film for Mediterraneo and received great international praise.
In 1992, he released Puerto Escondido, from the eponymous novel by Pino Cacucci and the following year he directed Sud, denouncing the political and social situation of the Mezzogiorno of Italy.

The main themes of Salvatores' screenplays are escape from a reality that cannot be accepted or understood, nostalgia for friends, and voyages that never end. A new experimental period started in 1997 with Nirvana, a science fiction/cyberpunk followed by the surreal Denti (Teeth, 2000), and Amnèsia (2002), both featuring Sergio Rubini.
Salvatores was awarded the David di Donatello prize, the most important award for Italian cinema, for Io non ho paura in 2003, from the Niccolò Ammaniti novel. In 2005 he directed the noir Quo Vadis, Baby? And his 2008 film As God Commands was entered into the 31st Moscow International Film Festival.

This last Educazione Siberiana (Siberian Education) has already received two nominations for the David di Donatello prize in 2013 and it continues the current of topics that the director loves, even if it’s not referred to an Italian reality. However it has the merit of raising the audience attention on a non-well-known yet culture, the Traditional Russian one, that doesn’t match at all with the stereotype usually given by the American cinematography. A strong-impact movie, in few sequences even shocking but never crass or uncalled for a narrative reason, bottom line, every sequence has been always described with in a delicate and poetic touch. Likeable story, from the very first scene until the very end, it’s heartily recommend to Salvatores lovers, but not only.

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