Published Oct 14, 2020Abel Ferrara's built a reputation as a confrontational, upsetting director, so much so that a simple, prosaic scene shocks in and of itself. Unflinching violence and sex aren't uncommon tools for him to confront audiences with in his films. The hallucinatory journey he takes in Siberia with Willem Dafoe, a frequent collaborator coming back following this year's Tommaso, has moments of blood and horror contrasted with sex and scenes of family.
The moment that really threw me for a loop, though, was a cut to Dafoe, joyfully dancing around a maypole with a smiling group of children, an odd tableau for any crew to have to stage for a Ferrara movie that also credits a bunch of extras as the "death camp" group.
Dafoe — credited as Clint but nameless throughout the movie — is manning a remote outpost, surrounded by snowy hills tinted green. He serves travellers, even when the majority of the few we see are Russian or Inuit and don't speak a language he seems to understand. He looks after them and cares for his sled dogs while leading a solitary existence.
His conflict lies elsewhere, in guilt he can't or won't acknowledge. Versions of himself dog him, sometimes representing figures from his past. We follow him through a shaggy assessment of himself and the sins of man, a free-form trip into the character's own purgatory or hell.
The bulk of Siberia is the visions he experiences. There's no clear connection from one to the next; Dafoe is just marching through them, one by one. Some of the big thematic points are tied to his essential family roles, as a son, unfaithful husband and neglectful father. In these segments and elsewhere, the experience can get graphic, sometimes gory, sometimes just entering the canon of "Dafoe fucks on screen."
The imagery Ferrara exploits doesn't find a new dimension to these themes, nor do the sequencing of these manifestations or the pointed dialogues held within. That said, Dafoe remains a terrific anchor. With him as the core, grappling with desire and regret, there's something intriguing to be considered here.
Festival du nouveau cinéma is taking place online from October 7 to 31. (Vivo)