If you type Lost in Siberia into Google, you’re bound to find that in fact two films exist with that very title: a German-Russian co-production made in 2012, and an unrelated 1991 British-Russian co-production. The more recent of the two, is of all things, a light and frothy comedy that trades off caricatured stereotypes associated with both nations involved. Weirdly, it comes across as the sort of trivial romantic comedy that the French produce in their sleep, which in a manner of speaking is an achievement given the overwhelming dourness associated with German and Russian filmmaking.
Matthias (Joachim Król) is a timid middle manager at a German mail order company. Recently divorced, and a bit of an all round doormat, he is sent to Siberia to assist a Russian subsidiary in improving their operations. Initially anxious and wary, the change of scenery instigates a journey of self-discovery for Matthias, who falls in love at first sight with traditional singer Sajana (Yulya Men), and pursues a relationship with her in spite of their cultural differences.
The first thing which needs to be pointed out is that Lost in Siberia is a bit of a failure as a comedy. Given that it rarely provokes much in the way of laughter, the unrelenting breeziness becomes downright annoying by the time the credits roll, and that’s assuming you’ve been forgiving enough to stay to the end and endure it’s tone-deaf attitude to matters of ethnic diversity.
In terms of German/Slavic relations, the film employs an equal opportunity policy with making light of the way in which the respective groups of citizens see each other (Russians get drunk, Germans are serious etc.) But it’s the character of Sajana, a member of the Tuvan ethnic group, whose portrayal is the most problematic. Matthias’ personal development is overly dependent on him being exposed to the ‘otherness’ of Sajana and her culture, and it’s awkward to watch him become nothing more than another boorish Westerner dabbling in oriental mysticism. A noble savage and manic pixie dream girl rolled into one, Sajana seems to be present for no other reason than to be at the service of Matthias and his objectives, as vague as they may be.
Given the lighthearted nature of the film, it may be asking too much of the filmmakers to have approached the material with a little more sensitivity. But even if one were to put these objections aside, there’s simply little to recommend to this cinematic trifle.
Lost in Siberia is playing in the 2013 Audi German Film Festival. Screening details can be found here.