A sweeping romantic epic, The Barber of Siberia is an ambitious portrait of pre-revolution Russia played out against a complex love story. The story is told as a woman in 1905 Massachusetts writes a letter to a West Point cadet, telling him a sprawling tale that begins in 1885 when a young American woman, Jane (Ormond), meets a sparky Russian cadet, Andrei (Menshikov), on a train bound for Moscow... The film has a real sense of scope and history and features an outstanding performance by Julia Ormond, alongside Richard Harris. A huge cast, wonderful directorial touches and a continual stream of real-life humour that makes the characters and situations interesting and engaging turn this into a stunning tale of passion and honour.
A strangely affecting but infuriating admixture of humour, melodrama and tedium
- The Barber of Siberia review by FM
This film was apparently panned on release due to its excessive length and it is certainly true that some scenes and the script should have been attacked with a scalpel. The framing round the memories of an American woman gives the unfortunate first-impression that this will be some kind of US mini-series. But this story of the chocolate-box soldier-cadets of 1880s Tsarist Russia is strangely affecting when dealing with what it knows about - the idiosyncrasies and silliness of pre-communist Russia, and there is a memorable performance by Oleg Menshikov as a theatrically excitable cadet swept up in a passionate coup de foudre with a mysterious American woman. He has the most naturally expressive very Russian sad-clown face, and he uses it to such great effect. Some elements of the plot jar: Julia Ormonde's back story is introduced in a barely understandable or credible fashion, and Richard Harris used in a way that is merely irritating. The ending is hard to believe given what has gone before. One gets the feeling of a great missed opportunity, spoiled by the need for international cooperation and funding. If you read the whole thing as a metaphor for modern Russia - American culture is alluring and tempting, but don't get involved as it will destroy your innocence and mess up your life!
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