Tobol (Тобол), The Conquest of Siberia (2019, KinoFilm Corp)
Directed by Igor Zaitsev. Featuring Andrey Burkovskiy, Erkebulan Dairov, Evgeniy Dyatlov Aleksandr Lazarev, Dmitriy Dyuzhev, Yekaterina Guseva, Agata Muceniece and Ilya Malanin, .
Tobol, also known as The Conquest of Siberia in some British and American releases, is loosely based on historical events, when under Peter the Great in the 17th Century, Russia asserted control over Siberia, and wrestled power away from the Mongols. Ivan Demarin (Malanin), a young patriotic officer of the First Guard, is sent to Siberia, on a ‘peaceful mission’ in search of gold. However, unbeknown to him and his entire regiment the mission was a lure by a local governor to manipulate local affairs, namely to provoke a war between Russia and the Mongols. Ivan meets his regiment at Tobolsk, an outlying township of the Russian empire, where thousands of captive Swedes, Germans and others live in a kind of refugee status. Ivan successfully argues that a large contingent of Swedes should be recruited in return for their freedom after the campaign. Chief among the Swedes is a man called Johan Renat (Burkovskiy).
The newly enlarged regiment travel further east, establishing a small fortress from where they plan their expeditions. They soon encounter Jungar militia (Mongols), who are deeply suspicious of the Russian presence and their so-called search for gold. The film then unfolds into an array – sometimes confusing – of battle scenes, intense dialogue between key players in the conflict and indeed a few alliances that are not what they seem. Paramount to the story is the fact that the Swede Johan is actually working on the side of the Mongols.
Technical aspects of the film are all generally fine. Special effects and make-up are very well done. Acting is quite good, cinematography is fine, sets and design are suitably historic, and along with the costumes they are fashioned to fit in with the era. I found the sound a little intrusive, such as when someone punches a guy and you hear a kind of electronic-volume elevated ‘boom’! The musical score is okay but a little predictable – military precision drums for every action scene. But the script is not especially impressive. I am not really sure whether this is the main thing that is wrong with the film, or whether it is the editing of scenes or even the over-all direction. But parts of the film are confusing. Whereas the first 45 minutes is all about political intrigue and scheming, the rest of the film seems to take it into a different direction, with lots of battle scenes and unclear moments as to who has been captured or let go or kind of captured but kind of working in aid of their captors. All quite feasible, but not clearly presented. In the end I have to blame the director.
There are a few women in the film, but they are under-whelming. They are there to support their men and not much else. All rather dull, though the actors themselves, Guseva and Muceniece in particular, do a fine job with what they have. There are elements of ‘Russian patriotism vs the sinister Mongols’, but mostly it is fine, and not that different from most war films in which a degree of national propaganda gets its treatment. And they do try to balance it up at the end a bit. All very nice. Overall though, it is not a very exciting film. But it has some fine scenes, and it does deal with a piece of history (slightly imagined) that is not well known. It is worth seeing if you are a history buff (but remember this is a film, not a documentary).
Reviewed by Robin Stevens – Rated 2.5/5 (My Russian friend says 3!)
3 thoughts on “The One Review: Tobol, The Conquest of Siberia (2019 Igor Zaitsev)”
Perhaps Robin Stevens should watch this movie for a second time. He would find out that it was set in the 18th (and not in the 17th) century, apart from a few other aspects he did not find worthwhile mentioning. For example, a reasonably well portrayed Czar Peter. Peter, who had previously spent four months working as apprentice with Dutch ship builders during his 18-months’ travel in Europe, was seen actively working among his own ship builders at the beginning of the movie. Robin describes the story as not impressive, but fails to mention that Czar Peter’s contribution to the historic modernization of Russia was an important aspect throughout the movie.
Johan Renet’s psychological dilemma – should he save the life of the woman he promised to take to freedom and side with the Mongols or should he be loyal to his fellow Europeans – is another aspect left out in this critique.
Neither does Robin does do justice to the “few under-whelming women” (how many women does he expect in a film about a Sibirian conquest?), but that is a matter of personal opinion.
I would award a 4 out of 5, minus a deduction for historic inaccuracies which I could describe better if I were a Russian.
Robin Stevens did not watch this film.
I watched this movie dubbed in English last night but did not finish. I watched it with my Firestick and cannot find it. No search will bring it up! Any ideas like name change?