Credit: Courtesy of Vivo Film/Maze Pictures/ Piano
by Sam C. Mac Film

Best Films of 2021: Siberia

January 8, 2022

#24. Siberia flaunts Abel Ferrara’s enthralling and fearless devotion to a uniquely dynamic (and specifically filmic) form of psychological expressionism — an approach that is still at least modestly grounded in supplying bread-crumb details of narrative, which here means a focus on the spiraling soul of Clint (Willem Dafoe) at the far reaches of the world. The unknowability, and inaccessibility, of Clint’s psyche serves both to intensify the impression of a man whose memories themselves are disintegrating and abstracting in tandem with his own grasp on physical reality, and more tellingly, to highlight the experience of disillusionment with his own identity. The latter schism also may represent the philosophical friction, and inevitable break, between this film’s obviously Jungian zeal and its remnant Freudian pathology, as made manifest in many knotted sequences that process psychosexual urges, the way Ferrara vacillates between an engagement with elemental, primal/primordial influences and projections of the subconscious and the personal, emotional bonds that claw at Clint’s mind even as their meaning to him seems to evaporate. 

Siberia is, to be sure, a weird film. But it’s also an emotionally and psychologically impactful one whose ambiguities allow it to stimulate both our feelings and our intellect, in turn: the way the son of a surgeon’s little-boy fears come back to haunt him in the form of infirmed naked bodies; the rush of love, carnality, and shame that washes over Clint during an encounter that blurs identification between different women who’ve long left his life. The film’s most ecstatically moving moment comes when a shot of mysterious, invigorating joy accompanies Clint’s manic, impromptu dance to Del Shannon’s 1961 single “Runaway” — the song’s haunted clavioline solo forever pitched between romantic devastation and the wildest of parties. Even the rosebud-strangeness of Siberia’s ending brings a certain quixotic sense of comfort: some patent absurdism finally punctuating a fugue of barrenness and isolation.