Christ Lives in Siberia: The idyllic nature of faith
by Laurence Boyce
- This documentary from Estonian duo Jaak Kilmi and Arbo Tammiksaar is an often compelling and visually stunning mix of character study and examination of the nature of faith
In a remote area of Siberia, the world’s largest sect lives under the teachings of Vissarion, a man who claims to be the reincarnation of Jesus. Sveta has moved from away from St Petersburg and her ex-husband Magomed, and now lives in the community with her children, Danial, Mariam and Zaur, and her new husband, the Vissarionite bell ringer Dmitiri. Christ Lives in Siberia (Kristus elab Siberis), by Estonian duo Jaak Kilmi and Arbo Tammiksaar, follows the daily lives of the children as they go to school and help out with community chores. As we go along, we discover more about them and what brought their mother to the community. Their lives are juxtaposed with that of Magomed, who writes letters to the Russian government in an attempt to get his children back.
The movie defies initial expectations about its nature as it plays with the audience’s prejudices. It is easy to assume that – in following a religious sect – the film will be an exposé of a crooked leader convincing unfortunates to do his bidding. Instead, we’re shown something of an idyllic lifestyle. The children work hard but enjoy their relative freedom (and Zaur – who has autism – particularly seems to blossom in the environment). Sveta and Dmitiri love each other and enjoy their simple life. The cinematography emphasises this, with the sweeping vistas and the forest teeming with butterflies showing just how beautiful it all is. This situation is at odds with Magomed’s exhortations to the government and his claims that his offspring are being mistreated.
But the film never feels like a hagiography, and appears more like an examination of the nature of faith and how it can be a force for good.
With Disco and Atomic War [+see also:
film profile] (directed by Jaak Kilmi in 2009) having proved popular a few years ago, the film – which opened the Tallinn version of this year’s DocPoint Film Festival – will most likely have a healthy run on the documentary festival circuit.