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  • Writer's pictureNiall Glynn

Dafoe in da snow? (London Film Festival)

Siberia marks the sixth collaboration between Abel Ferrara and Willem Dafoe. Already a favourite of Wes Anderson, Lars Von Trier and Paul Schrader, Dafoe has become something of a poster-boy for the oddball auteur clique in recent years.

A reputation well deserved as he's endlessly fascinating to observe and utterly fearless as a performer. It’s no wonder that Ferrara one of the most hot-blooded, creatively unhinged directors from the ’70s has taken such a shine to him. More the pity then that Siberia is ironically something of a cold, vast nothing.

Dafoe portrays Clint a quiet rugged barman living in the wilderness. Barely able to communicate with most of his regulars, the film certainly sets up a juicy story, with the question being- why is Clint out here?

However, the narrative becomes so unfocused that it’s hard to say what really incites Clint to leave on his quest. Guilt? Boredom? Dafoe suffers from strange visions but their significance is oblique at best, annoying at worst.

Willem Dafoe in Siberia (2020)

An early vision of a savage bear attack promises a more brutal journey (Ferrara’s The Revenant?) whereas this is a fairly tame time at the pictures. Even grotesque images of people naked and bleeding are strangely relaxed given the languid, aimless pace. Ferrara’s imagery remains as bold and fascinating as ever but the lack of his trademark ferocious storytelling gives the film the feel of a photograph simply displayed at a gallery. Siberia is thought-provoking, yet strangely sterile in presentation.

Perhaps Siberia’s biggest mistake is that it doesn’t let Dafoe try anything particularly daring or new. Dafoe traversing a vast wilderness? Oh, like The Hunter? Dafoe with a team of huskies? Disney+ has you sorted with Togo. Dafoe being belittled by his own reflection? Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man already perfected this dialogue.

Normally an unpredictable chemical mix, here Ferrara and Dafoe settle for a greatest hits compilation. A few highlights include a classically uncomfortable sex scene, one awesome dance sequence and a sequence which feels like a cut scene from Midsommar.

After a winning streak of superb indie performances, it’s clear Dafoe’s talents are still razor-sharp, but if only Siberia had use for them...

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