I admire how Abel Ferrara still keeps going even at present. Although his filmmaking career already passed its peek mainly represented by a number of acclaimed works including “King of New York” (1990), “Bad Lieutenant” (1992), and “The Funeral” (1996), he has continued to make his films during last 20 years, and his several recent films such as “Pasolini” (2014) and “Tommaso” (2019) showed us that he is still an interesting filmmaker to observe.
In case of his latest feature film “Siberia”, which was shown at the Berlin International Film Festival early in last year, Ferrara attempts an austere collage of dreams and reflections inside one lonely and isolated individual, and that is initially fascinating to some degree, but I am still debating with myself on whether the movies succeeds as much as intended. While it deserves to be compared with other similar films ranging from “Mulholland Drive” (2001) to “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” (2020), the movie often struggles to hold its center among a number of different moments to baffle or fascinate us, and that is a shame considering that it is equipped with another strong collaboration between Ferrara and one of the finest movie actors of our time.
At the beginning, we observe the stark and barren daily life of a middle-aged American dude named Clint (Willem Dafoe). Although the movie does not tell anything about how this taciturn guy came to reside alone in a shabby wooden bar located in the middle of some remote mountainous area of Siberia, he seems to be fine with his isolated life without much human connection, and we see him flatly serving his few customers from time to time. Most of these customers of his do not speak English at all, and, regardless of whether he actually understands at all what the hell they are talking about, the movie deliberately chooses not to provide English subtitle for emphasizing his isolated status to us further.
While nothing much happens in his world at first, the movie slowly lets us sense Clint’s anxiety and conflict via a series of offbeat moments. For instance, when he is talking a bit with some English-speaking customer trying to have some fun with an electronic slot machine in his bar, the movie suddenly interrupts this scene with the nightmarish moment involved with a bear attack, and we are naturally baffled by this. Is this simply a pigment of his imagination, or a traumatic reflection of whatever he experienced some time ago?
And there is also a weird scene involved with a mysterious pregnant Russian woman who happens to drop by the bar along with an old woman who is supposed to be her mother. After she shows her naked pregnant body right in front of Clint, they come to have a more intimate private time together, and this moment brings some warmth to the screen, but then it is soon followed by a bizarre moment which features lots of blood from that old woman.
It becomes more apparent to us that Clint is struggling with a sort of personal crisis, but he does not reveal much to us except when he phlegmatically confides to us on a certain childhood memory during the main title scene of the film. Although he and his father were not so close to each other for many years, he is still haunted by when he and his father went fishing outside, and he has clearly cherished a lot that moment of male bonding between him and his father.
Anyway, the movie subsequently takes a left turn as Clint decides to take a journey across the wintry mountainous area surrounding his place. He goes by a sled pulled by a bunch of Siberian husky dogs, and that may take you back to a certain recent Disney film where Willem Dafoe incidentally appears along with a pack of Siberian husky dogs amid the cold and snowy landscapes of Alaska.
Not so surprisingly, the movie does not clarify much what Clint is exactly searching for, but more odd dreamy moments pop out here and there around him. At one point, he witnesses an atrocious massacre executed by a bunch of Russian soldiers, and then he experiences a series of weird moments not long after he and his sled dogs come to spend a night in a big cave. During the second half, the movie boldly shuffles several different backgrounds, and you will be certainly baffled more as our hero suddenly finds himself in the middle of a desert area for no apparent reason later in the story.
To my disappointment and frustration, these and other elements in the movie do not coalesce well on the whole, but Dafoe, who previously collaborated with Ferrara in no less than five films including “Tommaso”, steadily carries the film as bringing enough human qualities to his rather abstract role. He is terrific especially when his character faces an old personal regret involved with his ex-girlfriend and their little kid, and that is one of a few moments in the film where everything is aligned with him well together to generate palpable emotions onto which we can hold for a while.
In conclusion, “Siberia” is not as successful as “Tommaso”, which also attempts to mix reality and dream in the mind of its troubled hero and, to be frank with you, is much more successful in addition to being quite playful and insightful. Considering several overlaps between these two films besides Dafoe, it will surely be interesting to watch them together, but I recommend you not to expect too much from “Siberia” even if you had a fun with “Tommaso” like I did. I was not so bored, but, folks, I was also quite frustrated, and my 2.5-star rating is more or less than a reflection of my mixed feeling toward the film.