Friday, March 03, 2017

Rendezvous ’17: In the Forest of Siberia

The Taiga snow forest is an excellent place to avoid people. It is so remote, even Putin leaves it be. The forbidding frozen terrain attracts a disillusioned Frenchman in the midst of an early midlife crisis and a Russian poacher wanted for more serious crimes in Safy Nebbou’s In the Forest of Siberia (trailer here), which screens during this year’s Rendezvous with French Cinema in New York.

Teddy had visited Lake Baikal years before and it apparently made quite an impression. Sick of the rat race and his soulless social life, he has chucked it all in and purchased a hovel-cabin on its shores. Winter is fast approaching, but he is convinced the resulting silence and solitude will be spiritually cleansing. Maybe so, but it will also be cold and harsh. Mere survival will be much harder than Teddy ever expected, but a mysterious Russian outlaw will provide some key assistance at crucial moments. Aleksei is not exactly the trusting sort—partly due to the murder conviction hanging over his head—but a friendship will slowly develop between them. After all, they are the only out there, except for the occasional unwanted visitor.

Forest looks and sounds terrific thanks to cinematographer Gilles Porte, who just soaks up the icy vistas, and composer Ibrahim Maalouf, whose eerie ECM-ish score evokes a powerful feeling of desolation. His sound follows in the tradition of Tomasz Stanko and Enrico Rava, but the Beirut-born, Paris-based trumpeter also incorporates Middle Eastern and Mediterranean influences, which are rather apt for the northern Eurasian setting.

Raphaël Personnaz always looks like he is weak from hunger and suffering chills, so casting him in the lead makes a certain degree of sense. He is totally convincing when Teddy is in over his head, but somewhat less so as he starts to acclimate to the extreme environment. However, Evgeniy Sidikhin is an immediately credible and intriguing presence as the rugged but haunted Aleksei.

Nebbou & David Oelhoffen (who helmed and adapted Far from Men) keep the narrative business simple with their adaptation of Sylvain Tesson’s autobiographical novel, privileging sense of place and its effect on the psyche above all else. It is impressive in the moment, but the spell quickly breaks once the screening ends. Recommended for fans of Maalouf and those intrigued by its harsh, exotic setting, In the Forest of Siberia screens this Sunday (3/5) and the following Thursday (3/9) at the Walter Reade, as part of the 2017 Rendezvous with French Cinema.