Dir. Abel Ferrara. Italy/Germany/Mexico. 2020. 92 mins
Willem Dafoe runs a bar in a remote and snowy Siberia in his latest film directed by Italian veteran Abel Ferrara. As Clint he occasionally ventures out by means of a sledge and five eager huskies. But we first meet him offering welcome sustenance and a sympathetic ear to the locals who talk to him but never get a response. His visitors are an old man covered in furs and an old woman and her young pregnant daughter, who opens her coat to reveal a voluptuous body. Later Clint is seen sleeping with her in a sensual reverie. This may be wishful thinking on his part, or even that of Ferrara whose female characters are merely cyphers there to serve the menfolk. But Dafoe, to his credit, presses on giving a performance of dignified integrity convincing us that Clint is clearly a troubled individual, wrestling with his past and his not too shabby present.
The night-time lovemaking sequence is just one of the fantasies enjoyed by the raddled old bartender who has retreated from life for this bout of soul-seeking, possibly borne out by a dissatisfactory relationship with his father. The failed primary relationship is hinted at in flashback sequences that picture his father, dressed as a surgeon, looking back at the camera with an air of disdain bordering on resentment.
During Clint’s daytime forays on his sledge he comes across a cave full of naked people who approach him with an air of desperation. The snowbound terrain then transforms into a rock-face whence Clint tumbles into a desert setting where the huskies seem equally energetic, Ferrara ignoring the crucial fact that the creatures find high temperatures challenging.
Quite why the film is in the Berlinale main competition section is another anomaly. Essentially a series of random widescreen sequences of varying quality (some high res others grainy), Siberia is a drama without any meaningful dramatic arc, let alone any drama. It attempts to address the self-indulgent and rather cliched premise: old man looks back on his life and concludes nothing from his navel-gazing.
Clearly trading on his strong reputation – Mary, Bad Lieutenant, Pasolini – the highlights of his sustained career, Ferrara is now clearly having a bit of fun with Siberia. He must be chuckling to himself all the way to the bank having managed to get this film in the prestigious competition lineup. MT
BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL | 2020