Siberia – Film Review

If you have read some of my reviews in the past, you will know that I am a fan of experimental cinema.

While some people groan at the thought of watching a film by the likes of Gus Van Sant, I genuinely feel excitement form in the pit of my stomach. Having said that though, I am also one of the first to admit that sometimes a director can go too far in their experimentation. Yes, it is good to see a director do something more than have a story run generically from ‘A to Z’ or simply just point a camera at the action and shoot, but what happens when the director goes so far into their own experimentation that the film becomes incomprehensible for the audience? The answer, I fear, is painfully clear with director Abel Ferrara’s (King Of New York) brand new film, Siberia.

The film’s loose plot centres around Clint (Willem Dafoe – Spider-Man) a bartender who works in a remote bar with only his customers and sled-dogs to keep him company. It is there that things get confusing. While we do see Clint with his wife (Dounia Sichov – Light Thereafter) and son (Anna Ferrara – Tommaso), we also see him confront demons, have sexual encounters with other people and even have a simple game on a slot machine turn into a vicious dog attack. What is real, what is fantasy and what is a dream – no one can really tell.

Perhaps the best way I can describe how I felt after watching Siberia was frustrated. Willem Dafoe is in award-winning form with his performance on-screen and is well-matched with the actors and actresses around him, especially with a stunning and memorable portrayal of one of Clint’s lover by Cristina Chiriac (Pasolini). There is a strong intensity to many of the scenes in the film, however, the performances of Dafoe and co often make it feel like you are watching an off-Broadway theatre production rather than a feature film.

What brings the cinematic presence to Siberia are the amazing visuals delivered by Ferrara and his cinematographer Stefano Falivene (Bel Ami). There are amazing shots of icy mountain tops and snow-drenched landscapes that would not be out of place in an award-winning IMAX documentary. To be honest, there were times where the stunning visuals were the only thing that kept my interest. It is hard as a viewer not to feel deflated when it begins to feel that any plot that was there with the film has completely eroded away.  

To fall in love with Siberia, you would have to be the fan of the more obscure side of cinema. Although I do love experimental films, I’m sorry to say that Siberia lost me. It is just a shame that although Dafoe absolutely shines, it is in a film where the plot is completely incomprehensible. While Siberia’s visuals may look like a masterpiece, the film is far from it.

Siberia is currently screening digitally online as part of the Revelation Perth International Film Festival until July 19th. For more information on the festival, visit: https://www.revelationfilmfest.org

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