Abel Ferrara is on a hot streak as of recently for releasing not one, but two of the most polarising films of the year. The beloved American director is widely known for his outrageous and non-pandering features, where this year it seems as though he’s outdone himself. Sportin’ Life, his most recent feature out of his two 2020 films, is an experimental documentary that highlights the deterioration of the creative process and mind during a global pandemic. One part Godard’s The Image Book, other parts pretentious self-masturbatory dribble, Sportin’ Life is an unconventional eyesore of bewildering directorial decisions. Do you think that’s controversial enough? Try Siberia, his fiction film from this year starring the one and only Willem Dafoe. A mystical and depraved depiction of limbo and the recollection of memory before death itself, Siberia utilises the most out of visual allusions and slight symbolism in its tightly packed 90-minute runtime.
International production of numerous locations, characters, and allegories, Ferrara’s Siberia is an ambitious undertaking. An odyssey of the five senses for Dafoe’s Clint, the film often avoids subtlety altogether and slaps the viewer with a literal soul searching journey of the inner self. Clint is an observational narrator, where the audience views the tragedies of his past in sporadic fragments. Some memories are happy, but the majority of them are incredibly melancholic and bleak. As Clint continues his journey, and as the audience pieces different interpretive images together to form a basic understanding of the protagonist’s past, the more nonsensical the journey becomes. In all of its absurdity, the film’s beautiful landscapes and a cast of otherworldly supporting characters only somewhat create compelling drama.
The obvious metaphor at hand runs out of steam quite quickly. For a film that’s all about a man seeking purpose while his life and memory are suddenly fleeting, ironically enough it seems as though Ferrara is in a very similar creative situation. Some scenes come off as amateur, where Ferrara seeks deeper meaning in scenes that don’t necessarily need any more jarring symbolism or further narrative connotation. Siberia is shallow, in how the drama entirely relies on the subjectivity of the viewer over Ferrara’s personal interpretation and direction of his own text.
A mentally taxing drama of the body and soul, Siberia is an exhausting and unfortunately pretentious addition to the ever-growing collaborative catalog between Ferrara and Dafoe. In all of its scenic majestic beauty and projections of fears and the great unknown, there’s a little too much open room for interpretation in Siberia. A tighter focus and a more visceral genre palette would have been far more appreciated, where Ferrara could have gone further with the dreamlike extremity, without sacrificing any of the film’s best and most bewildering moments.
Dir: Abel Ferrara
Scr: Abel Ferrara, Chris Zoist
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Christina Ferrara, Simon McBurney, Dounia Sichov
DOP: Stefano Falivene
Country: Italy, Germany, Mexico
Run time: 92 minutes
Siberia screened at this year’s Festival Du Nouveau Cinema as part of the TEMPS Ø program.