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BFI London Film Festival 2020 Review - SIBERIA

siberia review abel ferrara
Retreating to a remote wilderness, a man experiences a series of hallucinations.


Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Abel Ferrara

Starring: Willem Dafoe, Dounia Sichov, Simon McBurney, Cristina Chiriac

siberia poster abel ferrara





In recent years Abel Ferrara and Willem Dafoe have become American arthouse cinema's equivalent of John Ford and John Wayne, the actor frequently essaying what feels like an onscreen proxy for his director, even when he's playing an entirely different filmmaker, as was the case in Pasolini, the most fruitful of their collaborations to date.


siberia review abel ferrara

Pasolini may also have been the most accessible of Ferrara and Dafoe's couplings. Siberia, on the other hand, is perhaps their most impenetrable, and this is the filmmaker and actor who gave us the confounding apocalyptic drama 4:44 Last Day on Earth.

[ READ MORE: BFI London Film Festival 2020 Review - Shadow Country ]

In Siberia, Dafoe plays Clint, a North-American who relocates to the wilds of remotest Siberia (or is it Canada?) where he tends bar and serves cups of steaming coffee to grateful frostbitten travellers. Clint doesn't speak a word of the local lingo, and you get the impression this is why he chose the location, so as to isolate himself even when in human company.


siberia review abel ferrara

At first, Siberia plays out in a fashion more befitting Jarmusch, as Clint serves a variety of guests in his bar while engaging inn increasingly odd interactions. A man playing a fruit machine turns into a vicious bear when he pulls three sevens. A pregnant young woman offers herself to Clint, but he wakes to a disturbing surprise.

[ READ MORE: BFI London Film Festival 2020 Review - Mogul Mowgli ]

Then Clint sets off for a remote cave, and the movie enters batshit crazy, anything goes territory as he experiences a series of hallucinations, most based on regrets and insecurities from his past. Some involve intimate memories of his father and past lovers, but others are more puzzling, like what appears to be a genocidal massacre, a visit to a Bedouin community in a desert, and a living room trashed by heavy metal fans.


siberia review abel ferrara

What does it all mean? Damned if I know, and I'm not sure Ferrara knows either. If he does he's unable to translate his film's meaning to the audience. I don’t have a problem with that. There are plenty of surrealistic movies that feel so personal that they're intellectually impenetrable for the viewer, but they offer enough for us to be emotionally won over. Ferrara's dreamlike imagery however is visually uninspired, despite handsome cinematography by Stefano Falivene, and his hallucinatory scenarios too often resemble a film student's aping of Jodorowsky. Much of them involve tedious sex scenes and clich├ęd father/son clashes, and for all its madness Siberia feels a little too sober and manufactured. There are few images that stay with you, and even less ideas.

Siberia plays on BFI Player as part of the BFI London Film Festival on October 10th.




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