In their sixth collaboration together Abel Ferrara and Willem Dafoe take a deep dive into the human consciousness with a surreal examination of one man’s dreams and memories. Renowned for his provocative outlook, Ferrara is a director who isn’t afraid to push boundaries as well as the audience’s patience. His latest is easily his most perplexing film to date, doing away with any sort of conventional narrative in favour of a series of scarcely linked vignettes, with Dafoe’s ever-compelling presence being the only connective glue. In spite of Dafoe’s committed performance and some beautiful cinematography, Siberia’s deliberately impenetrable existential musings quickly become tiresome.
Siberia begins pretty intelligibly, with a calming voiceover from Clint (Dafoe) recalling a childhood fishing trip with his father. But it’s not long before things degenerate into a self-indulgent mess of ideas and images. Clint has turned his back on his former life to run an isolated bar amongst the snowy Siberian mountains. His only customers seem to be a smattering of locals and the odd traveller passing through, none of whom share the same language with the English-speaking Clint. After experiencing several bizarre hallucinations, Clint journeys to a nearby cave where he’s confronted with memories from his past and visions of former loved ones as he grapples with his inner demons.
What follows is an incomprehensible fever dream featuring a trip to a desert oasis, a visit to a torture chamber, a talking fish and lots of gratuitous sex. His father, mother, ex-wife and different versions of himself all populate these dreamlike sequences which often clash and contradict one another. Siberia’s knowingly oblique metaphysical journey remains frustratingly inaccessible and increasingly irritating throughout an extremely testing 92-minutes. Ferrara’s intention may have been to achieve just that, but the film’s lack of any emotional or narrative hook produces tedium and confusion rather than any sort of intrigue. The meandering array of abstract segments fails to form any meaningful whole, making its slim runtime feel like a total slog.
Luckily, Siberia does have some redeeming features, its biggest being Dafoe, whose magnetic presence would improve any film. He’s clearly fully invested in Ferrara’s freewheeling style and his dedicated turn is about the only thing the audience can emotionally latch onto. One scene involving Dafoe dancing around a maypole to Del Shannon’s timeless track ‘Runaway’ is a notable highlight. In addition to this, Siberia boasts some spectacularly shot cinematography from Stefano Falivene, its wild variety of backdrops never look less than stunning.
Unfortunately, these positives don’t outweigh Siberia’s narrative shortcomings. Ferrara doesn’t give the audience any semblance of a clue on how to navigate or interpret Clint’s existential odyssey. Consequently, it all feels rather pointless.