Siberia: The BRWC LFF Review – Veteran filmmaker Abel Ferrara’s latest film (his sixth collaboration with Willem Dafoe) is every bit as strange as we’ve come to expect from him; a beautiful yet bizarre work that truly tests the patience of its audience.
Dafoe plays Clint, a bartender based in Siberia, who embarks on a journey of self-examination, wherein he faces his own memories, thoughts, dreams, and even hallucinates. It’s a trippy, emotionally testing look at the human subconscious that Ferrara has described as such: ‘I want to see if we can really film dreams; our fears, our regrets, our nostalgia.’
Siberia is far from the only film ever to attempt this, so it’s hardly the adventurous, bold game-changer that Ferrara clearly thinks it is, and other filmmakers have had far more success with the concept than him.
The film isn’t a completely wasted watch. In fact, it’s stunning to look at, creatively directed and exquisitely shot by Stefano Falivene, with the use of thematically distinct lighting and colour wonderfully reflecting Clint’s agitated mind. It’s competently put together by a team of experienced people who have mastered their craft, particularly Dafoe, a consistently engaging performer with a unique presence that has always suited the protagonists of Ferrara’s work.
Sadly, the problems lie with just about everything else. The visions and memories we see Clint experience are often no less than frustrating; shot with purpose, yes, but vapid and empty. Ferrara has thrown all of his thoughts on the screen, whether they add to the narrative or not (they rarely do). His intention appears to be to frustrate the audience into an uncomfortable state, but it just comes across as arrogant pretension and mockery, from a filmmaker who believes he’s far cleverer than those viewing his work.
The less experimental aspects of the film also fail to ever truly come to life, due to the language barrier that exists between Clint and the Inuit people who come to his bar. While clearly intentional, it means that his time with his customers (particularly a heavily pregnant woman whom he kneels down to kiss) just comes across baffling. It isn’t an approach that works.
Siberia certainly gets under your skin, but not for the reasons Ferrara clearly hopes. In spite of its beauty and Dafoe’s predictably committed performance, it’s an utterly mindless attempt to visualise the mind of its protagonist with empty, surface-level experimentation that appears far more profound than it truly is.
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