Film Scouts on the Riviera 1999

"Sibirskij tsiryulnik (The Barber of Siberia)"

by David Sterritt

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Given my opinion that Nikita Mikhalkov's best movie is the long-ago "Oblomov" and that he's been overrated by critics and audiences ever since, I'm not surprised that "The Barber of Siberia" is less than excellent. But like most others I've talked to, I am surprised at the high degree of awfulness it manages to achieve. One problem is Julia Ormond's performance, which starts out with an attractive undertone of energy and independence, then becomes monotonous and even grating as she fails to inject any real conviction or emotion into the increasingly rambling and directionless screenplay. The movie's real difficulties can't be placed on her shoulders, however, since they fall squarely into the lap of the self-important auteur who cooked up such a long and eclectic project without giving proper thought to what it was supposed to accomplish. Its historical sense is thin and unconvincing; its political ideas are superficial and unoriginal; its dramatic scenes are almost entirely unpersuasive and its comic scenes are simply not funny, except for a five-second performance by a grand piano slipping across an overwaxed dance floor with more humorous flair than any of the human players are able to muster. For the immediate future, at least, unregenerate Milhalkov admirers wishing to convince their colleagues that he's a first-rate filmmaker will have a far harder task than the movie's (badly acted) American soldier who wants to persuade his (badly acted) drill sergeant that Mozart is a great composer. The sergeant finally sees the point; few viewers of "The Barber" are likely to do the same.

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