There’s a fine line between great art and pretension and Abel Ferrara‘s 2019 film Sibera walks it, often stumbling between the two like a snow-blind traveller navigating an unknown terrain. As you would expect from Ferrara, Siberia is a bold and brash piece of filmmaking and it’s well anchored by an impressive performance from Ferrara’s muse and frequent collaborator, Willem Dafoe. It’s not exactly a pleasant viewing experience but you have to admire Ferrara’s confidence in what he has created.
Dafoe plays Clint, a US ex-pat who now runs a bar in the wilds of Siberia (‘the end of the earth’). There’s a language barrier between Clint and his clientele and the lives a solitary existence, serving the locals and keeping to himself. It’s obvious that Clint is running from something and it turns out that he’s running from his past – and himself. He’s a man suffering an existential crisis and in an attempt to reconcile his failures, he takes off into the Siberian countryside in a dog-sled. It’s a journey which delves deep into Clint’s dreams and subconscious as he comes face-to-face with everything he has been running from for so long.
Siberia marks the sixth collaboration between Ferrara and Dafoe and the pair make for a fearless team. Dafoe is essentially playing the director, who wanted to capture the essence and power of his dreams in a cinematic form. Ferrara achieves his aim, delivering a near plotless collection of barely connected scenes as Dafoe’s character attempts to makes sense of his existence. Your appreciation of Siberia will depend on how much you are willing to go on this journey and some will be thoroughly enraged by having to spend ninety minutes watching Ferrara as he attempts to understand his own subconscious in the cinematic equivalent of therapy.
Beautifully shot by Stefano Falivene and edited Fabio Nunziata and Leonardo D. Bianchi, Siberia is a well crafted film which is expertly realised. It’s far from perfect and often bad, but it’s always intriguing.