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MOVIES: Siberia - Review (LFF 2020)

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Siberia is certainly an interesting film and one of the most single-handedly unique genre offerings to come out of the London Film Festival so far this year. Established director Abel Ferrara pairs with Willem Dafoe for a grizzly, David Lynch and Terrence Malick-inspired odyssey of isolationism through the arctic wastelands of Siberia, as Dafoe’s grizzled Clint is faced with a reckoning of his dreams, memories and visions all happening at once. It’s an utterly gorgeous film that will not make a lot of sense and practically requires multiple viewings to digest, but is something that – especially if you’re familiar with Ferrera’s off-beat style – will click with you right from the word go.

This film is an examination of an ending, self-reflective, not unlike Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman and Silence – self-serious until when you least expect it, a killer, off-beat musical dance montage happens halfway through the film and it never feels out of place in the slightest with Dafoe looking completely at home. There’s an element of westerns in its structure, a genre that Ferrara has always been a fan of, and the film incorporates these in the background in a way that adds an interesting thematic relevance to the narrative, guided along by Dafoe’s stirring narration. Out of the two Dafoe + arctic wasteland survival struggle stories that we’ve had so far this year (Togo being the other one, a much more family-friendly experience on Disney+), Siberia is by far the strongest, but anyone looking for a conventional narrative or expecting to make any kind of sense out of Siberia will be lost from the word go - Ferrera and writer Christ Zois explore a fantastical world that has no logic to it whatesover - there is little in the way of exposition and there is even less to be found in the way of answers.

The script uses fiction as a way to flush out the personal demons of Clint over the course of the narrative, telling the course of different fantasies that have the audience questioning the reality to any of them. His narration is completely unreliable and no clarity is sought or given as the film clearly diverges from other Ferrera works – you’d be hard pushed to tell this was the same film from the director of King of New York for example, but at the same time it creates a unique situation where you would feel completely alien without pior experience to his style of filmmaking It’s an entirely exclusionist and often alienating work that will no doubt draw critiques for feeling cold or emotionless, with its critisims being highly understandable. But that did not affect how much this piece convinced me as it made the absolute most out of its stunning visuals and bleak, pictureseque locations. Cinematographer Stefano Falivene is clearly gifted, and the imagery and framework presented across Siberia is absolutely stunning, completely vital to the storyline's narrative structure. If anything, the Ferrera Siberia is most comparable to is Pasolini, which looked at the last days of Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini in 1975 but at the same time it is imperative to stress tha there are no direct comparisons to be drawn to any one work. Make no mistake about it, for good or for ill - Siberia is one of the most unique experiences of the year.

Deliberately slow paced without providing easy answers, Siberia is a dour but far from dull film that avoids the usage of a dreamscape that many will be familiar, treading the unfamiliar path at every turn. It’s something that I’m not sure I fully understood and practically demands multiple rewatches in order to make complete sense of, but at the same time, I came away from this movie not wanting to know more, with the broad sense of unknown both in terms of location and wilderness working massively in its favour. It’s safe to say that Siberia is very much an odd piece of magical realism, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

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