Siberia

Movie Review by Louise Charman

Starring: Hugo Metsers, Roeland Fernhout, Nicole Eggert

Director: Robert Jan Westdijk

If you?re expecting a documentary about vast snow-swept plains, you won?t find it here: SIBERIA is fast paced, funny – and filmed in Amsterdam. The second feature from young Dutch director Robert Jan Westdijk, this is a lively and contemporary film in the style of GO and LOCK STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS.

Handsome Hugo (Hugo Metsers) and his sidekick Goof (Roeland Fernhout) operate a scam seducing female backpackers newly arrived in Amsterdam, then stealing their money and cameras. How much money they take depends on how much they like the girls, and they also rip out the photo page from their passports to keep as a memento. Gentle Goof frequently falls in love with his prey, much to the exasperation of cool and callous Hugo. One day they meet their match in Lara, a quick witted Russian girl who Goof allows to move in with them. Totally smitten, he suggests to Hugo that they use the stash of money to take Lara on a visit to Siberia, her childhood home. Hugo responds by issuing a challenge – the first to get another five passport pages wins all the money. Goof enters into the competition with gusto, while Hugo learns that Lara isn?t really worth his friend?s efforts. Her presence creates an increasing rift between them, and their friendship is under threat. But Goof isn?t as foolish as he first appears?.

Director Robert Jan Westdijk shot his first low budget feature, LITTLE SISTER, on video after deciding he wanted to direct a feature film before he was thirty. LITTLE SISTER went on to win awards at several international film festivals, and SIBERIA subsequently found financial backing to the tune of 1.5 million dollars. Shot on 35mm, the film nonetheless retains a gritty independent feel, with lots of handheld shots and grainy black and white sequences intercut to clubbing music. The dialogue is a natural and amusing blend of Dutch and English, and the filmmakers have chosen an international cast for their harem of victims, including Nicole Eggert from the US series BAYWATCH as Lara?s American companion. Lara herself is played by first time actress Vlatka Simac, a young Russian traveller who answered the filmmakers ad in a newspaper and proved perfect for the role. The role of a Greek backpacker was added for an actress the director had met at a film festival in Greece, and her seduction by Goof in front of a dumbstruck Hugo is one of the funniest scenes in the film.

English speaking audiences often miss out on some gems of European cinema, preferring instead the formulaic popcorn ride of Hollywood comedies. The recent success of more independent British and American movies, written and directed by less established filmmakers, will hopefully have opened the audience?s eyes to the entertainment potential of smaller productions. Whether English speaking audiences can then extend themselves to foreign language films remains to be seen.

SIBERIA is every bit as good as its British and American contemporaries, and squinting at a few subtitles is a small price to pay for an evening of good (and relatively clean) fun.

So don?t forget your specs.

5 out of 6 stars

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