London Film Festival 2020: Siberia

The third film on my viewing list was auteur Abel Ferrara’s film Siberia based on a script co-written by Ferrara and Christ Zois. Marking Ferrara’s sixth collaboration with Willem Dafoe, the film follows bar owner, Clint (Dafoe) who lives in the wilderness of Siberia. Starting with a simple voice over over the opening credits with Clint recalling a memory with his father when he was younger, Siberia soons delves inwards with hallucinations, chance meetings and confrontation with his memories. He encounters his father, brother and ex-wife in a bid to find and understand himself. Ferrara’s direction is distinct and rich in his vision. His use of lighting and contrast is brilliant, particularly the scene in the cave where Clint encounters his brother. It’s a film that leaves a lot to interpretation and it seems that Ferrara is not making any judgement on Clint or his choices.

The best way to describe the script is on that spirals inwards. The opening act on the film focuses largely on the Siberian landscape and Clint’s existence in this vast space before entering into his own mind as he tries to puzzle out his life. The isolated wintery wonderland is soon replaced with various settings including deserts and woodlands, taking us on a geographical journey as well as an emotional and mental one. The script is motivated by the journey rather than the dialogue and in the first act, Clint doesn’t really speak and the writing is about how he occupies the space. As his customers in the bar speak to him in various languages, Clint briefly responds and nods as long as though he understands. Whether or not he does is up to viewer interpretation but he is a good reader of people. It then envelopes into him not being a good reader of himself.

Willem Dafoe can always be relied on to bring a great performance and Siberia is no exception. As Clint is faced with various faces from his past and present, we begin to paint a picture on why Clint has settled into his lifestyle. Clint isn’t a character that necessarily has to be liked nor is he particularly special or interesting. His hallucinations are a result of his choice to live alone and refusal to face his past. The memories are what shape Clint’s character and give a more rounded portrait. The scene in which is talk to his ex-wife, he refuses to take full responsibility for the failure of their marriage. His hardness seems unbreakable and is also elevated by the fact that he doesn’t interact with people as much anymore. Dafoe’s performance is quiet and subdued but powerful all the same. He is the perfect fit for this character.

The quick shift in locations give this film a dreamlike quality with its fluidity and exaggerates the visceral nature of the film. The film explores a whole spectrum of genre and music alike. In its genre, the film brings out drama, horror and satire whilst indulging in explicit sex scenes and gun violence. The music choices also shift from the beautiful score composed by Joe Delia to song choices that range from folk songs to heavy metal. Despite its inward approach to exploring a singular character, Ferrara contrasts this with widely vast technical and creative choices. It allows the different sides of Clint to emerge, peeling off the layers one by one.

Overall, Siberia is a film that demands complete audience attention otherwise it won’t make much sense. It is a film rich in visuals and settings and makes for an intriguing character insight. I’m not sure if it is a film for everyone as the film doesn’t follow any conventional structure or explain the shifts in scenes which can be off-putting but I think it is definitely a film worth watching, particularly for the direction and Dafoe’s performance. It’s a thought-provoking piece that explores a lot of ideas despite its short running time of 92 minutes and I am looking forward to seeing what Ferrara and Dafoe’s seventh collaboration will be already.

Siberia is showing at the London Film Festival on the 10th October. You can book your tickets on the BFI website.


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