25-02-2020

FNE at Berlinale 2020: Review: Siberia

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Siberia by Abel Ferrara Siberia by Abel Ferrara

BERLIN: Two famous film veterans director Abel Ferrara and actor Willem Dafoe make the Italian, German, Mexican coproduction Siberia a tour de force fantasy that has earned the film a place in the main competition at this year’s Berlinale.  This is not the first time Ferrara and Dafoe have worked together and the close collaboration between them make you feel that this odd and sometimes frustrating excursion into Ferrara’s strange mind could not have been made with any other actor by Dafoe.

The film was conceived as a journey that explores the Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung’s pioneering techniques developed to unlock self-understanding.  June according to his private diary evoked fantasies in his mind which he explored as a route to self-understanding. This is never mentioned in the film and it is a considerable question as to whether it needed to be explained or not but the story written by Ferrara has no conventional narrative.  It is more a series of bizarre fantasies as experienced by Dafoe.

Clint played by Dafoe is living in the Siberian wilderness in a wooden cabin with his dogsled and a team of dogs that are the other stars of this film.  He makes a living as a trader and selling liquor to the local Inuit inhabitants.  We hear Clint tell us that he originally grew up in Canada in a remote place together with his father.

From here on there is no real plot or story just a series of fantasies or hallucinations that take us on a tour of Clint’s mind. The first of these is the arrival of two Russian women on a dogsled one a very old woman who is a drunk and the other young and beautiful and hugely pregnant.  But the scene moves into total fantasy as the young woman reveals herself to be naked under her coat and invites Clint to have sex with her.

There is no shortage of strange sexual fantasies inside Clint’s head or on the screen with a Clint making love to a long series of beautiful young women and a cave where a naked woman dwarf appears in a wheelchair.  Clint’s ex-wife played by Dounia Sichov appears at one point and accuses him of cruelty and his father who was a doctor apparently puts in an appearance to chat with him and his mother also.  There is even a talking fish hallucination.  In another scene Clint explores a death camp where naked men are killed and incinerated.

At this point the audience has either suspended belief and is flowing along with Ferrara’s free flowing associations appreciating them for the cinematic visions they are or is becoming increasingly frustrated at the lack of story or meaning in this free for all.  But the visions in Ferrara’s head are beautifully realised on the screen by Italian director of cinematography Stefano Falivene who lends the whole film a kind of magical realism and music composed by Joe Delia lend the whole thing the right backdrop.  This film will struggle to find even art house distribution but for fans of Ferrara and Dafoe it is worth coming along for the ride.

Siberia (Italy, Germany, Mexico)
Directed by Abel Ferrara
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Dounia Sichov, Simon McBurney, Cristina Chiriac, Daniel Giménez Cacho