Following 2019’s Tommaso, master of grit, rebel auteur Abel Ferrara returns with Willem Dafoe for a lofty nightmarish charge at introspection in Siberia. In a blur of Malick and Lynch, the film is a nihilistic quest to the inner reaches of nowhere – Ferrara guides us on a tour of the weird and deadly. Whereas Tommaso was grounded and contemplative, Siberia is a visual projection of human consciousness that seems to flow directly out of the furthest recesses of the filmmaker’s mind. Admittedly, hoping to capture dreams on film, Ferrara presents us with a mixed bag that is mostly style over substance.
In essence, Siberia is atypically representative of Ferrara, a character that is somewhat misunderstood battling inner demons amidst bizarre sex and frantic violence. The collaborative nature of Ferrara and Dafoe’s relationship allows the former to pit Dafoe in varying surreal sequences that flit between tactile and visual sensory explosions. The overarching goal appears to establish mythology and poetry in the metaphoric visions that unfold. Sadly, many of these self-indulgent skits fail to come together cohesively. Despite this, Ferrara’s arthouse semi-reflective Siberia does offer a handful of fleeting moments of visual brilliance that add to the existentialism on offer.
Dafoe, in the lead role as Clint, plays a man who has abandoned civilization for a more remote life in the snowscapes of northern Canada in a juxtaposing quest of self-discovery and self-isolation. Clint, as stated has all the markings of a classic Ferrara character: an openness to the extreme and an embrace for the erotic. A plethora of imagery is shifted upon the audience in another atypically short runtime as the protagonist battles his way towards self-actualization rather than acceptance. Credit to Dafoe for his commitment to the artistic journey and his willingness to go the extra mile for collaborative partner Ferrara. It is unfortunate that when pieced together Siberia is too convoluted and sometimes too aware of itself, almost self-mocking in its dialogue that even Clint can’t understand (we aren’t provided with subtitles either).
Though Siberia may represent a film geared more towards hardcore fans of the auteur, there is still a myriad of beautiful cinematography and fascinating ideas on display. There is a more distinct feeling that the film was made as an art piece rather than a fully formed narrative, which may be a purposeful choice, though unfortunately fails to provide reward as either. Themes of magic, loss, love, and the meaning of life never really materialize past the surface and furthermore there is an uneasy element of objectification when many of the underwritten female characters make appearances. Women in Siberia exist merely as lovers for Clint, who himself seems baffled by the unjustified pornographic aura that appears consistently throughout. The film leers towards a divine journey in the sentiments of Lars von Trier’s The House That Jack Built and amalgamates with a more self-indulgent David Lynch riff on Lost Highway.
What appears to hamper Siberia as much as the dialogue and the disjointed splicing of visions is its indecisive stance on what it wants to be. In confounding fashion the film is at times funny – be it intentional or not – then suddenly beguiling and psychological and sometimes simply challenging. Through the meta journey of Clint, the palpable Freudian avenues we are taken on that too often lead nowhere; it is difficult to fully appreciate or criticize when the premise appears to be nihilistic and one that asks for introspection. Perhaps by simply not taking itself seriously, Siberia enables itself to be a worthwhile 90-minute trip despite not leading us to anywhere in particular.