Review: Siberia

Written and directed by Abel Ferrara, co-written by Christ Zois, Clint (Willem Dafoe), lives a hermit-like existence in snowbound woods and tending a rundown mountainside bar, bizarre and frightening encounters with various weird patrons trigger Clint’s memories and dreams. Also starring: Dounia Sichov, Simon McBurney, Cristina Chiriac, Daniel Giménez Cacho, Fabio Pagano and Anna Ferrara.

This is a film where going into it with no awareness of what it is, may be a very discombobulating experience but before diving into the why of it, there’s one overwhelmingly apparent aspect of the film that is immediately noticeable, the stunning cinematography. Ignoring the story and themes of the shots entirely and simply observing the visual quality of it, it’s fantastic. Stefano Falivene may not be a name you’re familiar with, but the talent he shows here means it’s definitely a name that you’re going to want to remember. The texture and colour to his shots are entrancing to watch, they’re unusual yet have a very accessible quality to them, which is why it’s such a shame that the story that it’s capturing is not worthy of its excellence.

Trying to put into words the chaotic and haphazard events that occur in this film is a difficult task, there are recognisable themes touched upon, such a regret, childhood trauma, fears of fatherhood but the way in which it tries to do so is hugely ineffective, distracted and messy. For the majority of its time, the film continually takes tangents which most often involve nudity and genuinely give the impression that the director has a juvenile obsession with breasts, not unlike a 13-year old boy. There is the potential of a followable story but its hidden so deeply beneath unnecessary content and jarring editing that it isn’t worth trying to understand it. It’s entirely against the point for an experimental film that should provoke interpretation and discussion that it doesn’t have anything worth diving into. It’s genuinely surprising for there to be two writers credited to a project where there doesn’t feel like there’s enough content for one.

The direction and editing move in such a way that you can’t really describe it as a pace, it’s more repeatedly strangely timed jumps forward, backward, sideways and any which way. There’s also the choice of the filmmakers to purposely not translate any other language involved which though seemingly is to see the film through Clint’s (Dafoe) eyes, sadly comes across as slightly ignorant and selfish. Despite everything working against him in this film, Dafoe still manages to give a performance of his usual high quality, he repeatedly tries to bring forth the emotion that the story is weakly hinting at but he’s held back by not having the time to do so before it jumps forth again.

Siberia is chaotic, messy, slightly juvenile and a sincere waste of Willem Dafoe’s talent. Granted there are hints of a genuine attempt to explore Clint’s fears and regrets through his eccentric and highly exaggerated dreams but they are ultimately much too thin and underdeveloped. Even its stunning cinematography can’t save it from engulfing itself in self-aggrandising nonsense.

Verdict: ✯✯

Available via BFI Player for London Film Festival
on 10th October

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