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Kino on Video presents
Siberian Lady Macbeth (1962)

"I need you. Our destiny is in your hands."
- Katarina (Olivera Markovic)

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: June 16, 2002

Stars: Olivera Markovic, Ljuba Tadic
Other Stars: Kapitalina Eric, Bojan Stupica, Mile Lazarevic, Branka Petric, Ingrid Lotavius
Director: Andrzej Wajda

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:32m:35s
Release Date: June 18, 2002
UPC: 738329025021
Genre: foreign


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ B+D+D D-

DVD Review

Here's a recipe for disaster: Katarina (Olivera Markovic), yet to produce a suitable heir, lolls around her vulgar father-in-law's house, her husband absent. (They live on a farm, far from town, with only the servants and the animals for company.) Newly hired as the farm's swineherd is Sergei (Ljuba Tadic), who doesn't much care for laboring, but has an eye for the lady of the house. Toss a little rat poison into the father-in-law's soup, and you've got all the makings of a steamy little thriller.

I popped Siberian Lady Macbeth into my DVD player expecting to see some sort of Slavic Throne of Blood, the Macbeth story filtered through the prism of another culture; but really, this movie is more James M. Cain than Shakespeare, with the leading character less like the ultimate corporate wife in the Scottish play and more noir dame in the tradition of Barbara Stanwyck and Rita Hayworth. Specifically, this story brings to mind The Postman Always Rings Twice, with Olivera Markovic as a central European Lana Turner. In this respect, the American-influenced movie that it resembles in many respects is Ossessione, Luchino Visconti's version of The Postman Always Rings Twice, infused with its own local character and flavor. As they always do in these stories, things end badly, so you can take your poison here with a dollop of borscht.

Sergei and Katarina start living as lord and lady of the manor, but inconveniently enough for them, Zinovi, her husband, arrives home. He doesn't get much of a reception, to put it mildly. The servants are on to the happy couple, but no one dares to speak a word—given their track record, you probably don't want to get on their bad side.

There are a couple of nods in the direction of Shakespeare (at one point, after a grisly crime, Sergei echoes Macbeth: "What's done is done"), but my hunch is that that has more to do with the English subtitles than with the Serbo-Croatian. (Not that I speak a word of Serbo-Croatian.) This story is less a Renaissance retelling, and more of a Czarist peasant noir. Which is fine, but it may not necessarily be what you'd anticipate given the title; even less so, if you're familiar with some of director Andrzej Wajda's later work, like the Solidarity drama Man of Iron, or the historical epic Danton. One of the things that keeps it from being a Shakespearean tragedy is that there's not much at stake; the family farm is a poor substitute for the crown, and Katarina and Sergei are more lustful than they are greedy. Siberian Lady Macbeth does have some clever touches, though, if it lacks Shakespeare's witches and ghosts and fall from grace—there's the disposal of a body by certain farm animals that rivals the most explicit scenes in Hannibal, and instead of Banquo's ghost haunting Macbeth, it's the head of a roasted pig that freaks out Sergei: "We're eating the master!"

Things are tied up nicely with the arrival of a proper heir, a long-lost cousin—it's obviously more of a plot convenience than anything else, but it works fine. (This is the Macduff figure, more or less.) And instead of an ignominious fall, Sergei and Katarina are consigned to walk to (of course) Siberia, in a punishing journey that includes plenty of betrayals and double-crosses. The final sequence, shot on the water, is about as nihilistic and hopeless as anything you'll see in the movies.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Lots of scratches, bits of debris and even missing frames seriously compromise the video presentation on this disc. The original black & white photography looks accomplished, and the director favors master shots, which means that even on a television set that isn't the size of a barn door, it's easy to track the widescreen images. But there's so much junk in there that it can frequently throw your concentration out of the narrative.

Image Transfer Grade: D+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Serbo-Croatianno


Audio Transfer Review: Dynamics are adequate, but some of the music on the soundtrack, toward the end of the movie especially, sounds horribly warped. (The music is by Shostakovich, who wrote an opera from the same novel on which the movie is based.)

Audio Transfer Grade: D

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 15 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The fifteen chapter stops are unnumbered on the menu screens, and if you want to turn off the subtitles and polish up your Serbo-Croatian, you can't.

Extras Grade: D-

 

Final Comments

Screw your courage to the sticking place and enjoy this unusual cultural mélange. Poor image and audio quality are marks against this disc, but the film itself is a tightly constructed look at the darker angels of our nature.

 


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