Siberia

***

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Siberia
"A film that is entirely built on moments and glimpses."

Before attempting to dig about in the crazy world of Abel Ferrara's latest - the sometimes terrible, sometimes beguiling, often funny (whether intentionally or not) fragmentary wander through the psychological landscape of a trapper, let us take a moment to celebrate Willem Dafoe's spectacular ribcage. It's impressive, barrel-like structural nature, in contrast with his wiry, almost impossibly thin frame seems to have become increasingly compelling to directors in recent years, earning it the focal point in scenes for Hector Babenco (My Last Friend), Robert Eggers (The Lighthouse) and now in Siberia - if it goes on like this, it will soon be able to command its own trailer.

Fortunately for Ferrara, the rest of Dafoe comes attached and it's the American star's intensity - matched only by the implacable gaze of a husky with Cillian Murphy blue eyes - that offers the film's most arresting moments. And this is a film that is entirely built on moments and glimpses, as we hear and then see Dafoe's isolated trapper Clint begin to experience what might be described as a collage of memory and recollection.

To try to offer a storyline of what happens here would be an exercise in futility as it is more of a wander through the recesses of the more Freudian highways and byways of Clint's brain than anything specific. We are asked simply to hop aboard the dog sled with him and take the ride - and the shots of the dogs racing through the snow are a real treat - though there's no doubt your mileage may vary. There are sexual encounters - almost all with younger women, although given that this is built on remembrance, this makes more sense than in most films - and more visceral moments that could have become untethered from a horror flick. The landscape shifts from snow to desert to forest - all beautifully edited - although Dafoe always retains his fur boots. Meanwhile, his unsubtitled encounters with others offer a window into humans' ability to communicate without language.

This is, perhaps, what Ferrara is ultimately driving at, a communication with us about Clint which rests on shifting emotional sands rather than quantifiable ideas - from the awkward freedom of dad dancing to Del Shannon's Runaway, in which he is joined briefly by what appears to be a whirling dervish, to the spiky humour offered elsewhere. The dervish is the film's most obvious nod to Sufism but its whole framework is built upon the sort of inward journey emphasised by that faith.

The more you can go with the flow of this rather than getting hung up on the specifics better - and those unwilling to let the more obscure elements of this non-linear narrative drift by them are likely to be frustrated within minutes. There's a real sense of Ferrara and Dafoe putting a lot out there to get in there with Clint and that itself is reason to take a look.

Reviewed on: 25 Feb 2020
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A broken man flees the world and finds himself in a cave. His escape becomes a radical confrontation with his dreams, his memories and demonic visions.

Festivals:

BIFF 2020

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