This could be one of the most visually arresting films that I’ve seen in a while. The horror of war, of communism at it’s worst, of Stalin and the regime. Secret police everywhere, a man whose own wife is tortured into informing on him, another who is tortured into informing on his own son. How can time make us forget that this happened? That it still happens? That a situation such as that can drive people to walk four thousand miles for freedom, that they succeed.
Such extreme survival is no mean feat in the face of a Siberian winter, no food, no shelter and then the relentless heat of the Gobi desert before the bitter hike through the himalayas. Shoes, which, after suffering in a Soviet gulag, and so would be lacking in tenacity to begin with, never seemed so important. The bitter cold, the hunger, the desert heat and the thirst were everywhere throughout the film; highlighted by the magnificent and treacherous landscapes, the bitterness of the characters and the fact that the audience knows that Eastern European communism did not change for more than forty five years after the escapees made it to India. Safe to say then, that director Peter Weir and National Geographic make a good team.
The film is a long one, 2 hours and 14 minutes to be exact, but I didn’t check my watch once. The beautiful yet harrowing surroundings the characters find themselves in make it painfully obvious how hostile such conditions are and how easy it is for them to take a life at any moment, never once was I sure of the four that would survive.
Jim Sturgess plays the role of Janusz brilliantly. The hunger, fear and determination are always there. Colin Farrell plays the more clandestine (he stabs a man in the gulag) Valka, a criminal with tattoos, a knife and a knack for survival. Farrell himself it seems has a knack for a slavic accent. Mister Smith (Ed Harris) is another haunting character, his past and the further brutality of his present almost destroy him but his father-like reltionship with Irena seems to be his saving grace, that and a shoulder to lean on from Janusz. Long before the end of this epic journey, the group seem to band together, sharing everything from vodka to lizard meat, in a way living as true communism dictates, but only due to the merciless circumstances they find themselves in, because of the Russian communists.
In the end it was obvious that Weir had produced a film that celebrates the impossible feats of human endurance and at the same time, staggeringly difficult yet fantastically effective shooting techniques.
Here’s the trailer but really, the big screen is the only place to watch it.