Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Abel Ferrara’s Siberia

Siberia is not just a region of Russia. It is a whole state of mind. It is a psychotic and delusional state, as envisioned by Abel Ferrara. We will see it through the eyes of a lone American bartender, who is growing increasingly alienated from people, society, and his own sanity in Ferrara’s Siberia, which releases today on DVD.

Clint does not understand whatever Siberian Mongolic, Turkic, or Tatar dialects his occasional customers speak and for those of us who don’t either, Ferrara declines to subtitle them. That still does not stop Clint from sleeping with some of them, but sex always builds to a twisted, nightmarish climax in Ferrara’s

After a few weird encounters, Clint lights off on a spiritual trek through the tundra, with his trusty sled dogs looking just as confused as viewers uninitiated in Ferrara’s quirks. Arguably, there is the seed of an interesting story in the journey, when Clint periodically seeks out practitioners of the dark arts, presumably in hopes of acquiring the forbidden knowledge necessary for a Faustian bargain that would ease his existential regrets. Of course, Ferrara is not about to spoon-feed us Jack Straw.

There is no sense complaining or arguing over the film’s murky narrative, because Ferrara isn’t playing by those rules. He is taking us through a rabbit hole into the darkest corners of his subconscious. If you are uncomfortable with that than so much the better. Really, this is a film for critics to watch, so they can file bits away to draw on later when Ferrara releases something more accessible. Nevertheless, cast-members like Simon McBurney and Dounia Sichov add a lot of depth and texture playing the shadowy “Magician” and Clint’s wife (seen through dreams and illusions).

Once again, Willem Defoe is perfectly drawn and haggard to serve as Ferrara’s alter-ego. He literally strips himself bare, physically and emotionally, while playing scenes with himself, embodying Clint’s father and brother in his mind’s eye, as well. (Arguably, we can even see a bit of influence from David Lynch and Hemingway’s Michigan stories here.)

Ferrara never directly engages with the tragic history of Siberia, but vividly stages two scenes of shockingly violence that could certainly represent the Russia of the Soviet era and today. They are also highly symbolic of Clint’s own internal conflict. If you want to put Ferrara on the couch and give his oeuvre a thorough psychoanalytical going-over, this the perfect film to start with. Recommended strictly for diehard fans (rather than us mere mortals),
Siberia releases today (6/22) on DVD.