"Culture is what is left when everybody has gone home", says the narrator while on screen are shown "abandoned" buildings in the forrest - this summarises the film and the gap sometimes between the chirpy narration, unexpected animation or colourful music and images that run on screen. The traditional way of life captured on film looks even more remote than the frozen mammoths referenced. Interesting, though quirky.
3.75 - Marker's willingness to problematize his pursuit (“objectivity isn’t the answer either. It may not distort Siberian realities, but it does isolate them long enough to be appraised and, consequently, distorts them all the same.”) keeps this film relevant, even if its conclusions can be pat (“our irony may be more naive than their enthusiasm”), and its whimsy sometimes lumbering. Still, some moments of grace...
A symphony of the great north, Marker's documentary is a Techni-colorful travelogue into a remote land, a window to distant cultures. Under Marker's lens this wasteland, the mighty Russian "mishka", reveals its people, the people of the Arctic, bi-racial, multicultural but with one shared dream; to bring the mammoth into the sunlight, alive. "Her name is Siberia. After that it's straight ahead".
For 1957, this is a quixotic and quietly extraordinary personal recasting of the idea of documentary. 2 years before Marker's cinematographer here, Sacha Vierny shot Hiroshima Mon Amour for Alain Resnais, his landscapes and social observational footage is frequently made humorously ludicrous by Marker's editing and voiceover script. For Music? Prokofiev, Delerue, Shostakovich, Alfred E Neuman .. Ha!
Now digitally restored, it is a treat to watch - I especially loved the colours. It is an impression, a report based on Chris Marker's recent (in 1957 that is) brief exploration of Siberia. I appreciated the distanced, light, and educated approach to the political/ideological implications. Interesting use of animation. It definitely is the beginning of Marker's unique style of film-making.
Not the last time Marker would make an excellent film about the Soviet Union. Letter from Siberia is a splendidly diverse and protean work that fizzes with ideas and playfulness and undercuts the documentarian's own pretensions to objectivity and certainty. One of the great travel docs of all time.
Quite a peculiar subject, beautifully filmed. I found its tone delightful, as well as the cute animated sections. The only problem for me was Marker himself: his ever-present commentary never leaves the subject enough space to create a connection with the viewer, and his constant irony becomes tiresome after a while. In the end, he overshadows a subject that could have been much more interesting than its narrator.
Marker at his best (as he is here) is an artist of such commitment and vision, so utterly possessed of genius, conducting pure magic w/ verve and ease, that I truly feel like warnings should be attached to his films: beware, prospective viewer! having watched this film you will very likely come to realize that no art you are ever able to create will possess a germ of comparable worth. Bow in reverence.
Certain defining themes in Marker's work emerge here. For example, Marker briefly comments on the non-objectivity of documentary filmmaking, in the context of the post-war Soviet/capitalist ideological divide. Marker has clearly come to the realization that words offer power to images, but he does not follow this line of reasoning to the extent of his later films. His experiments with animation are quite charming.
Da tauchte es wohl zum ersten Mal auf, daß Marker von einer seiner Reisen einen Brief schrieb und damit einen Videoessay meinte. Auf der Reise Bilder sehen und Eindrücke sammeln, aber gleich darauf Gedanken spinnen entlang von Assoziationen, seien sie rational berechtigt oder nicht. Ein wunderbarer, erster Versuch, mit Stimme und Kamera einen Essay zu malen in einer Art, die Markers Filme so unverwechselbar machen.