Movie Review: Ferrara and his muse Dafoe look for meaning, forgiveness, etc. in exile in “Siberia”

If the Internet has taught us anything, it’s that the curious, expressive and exceptionally smart husky may be the dog who truly “gets” us, and will most likely be the first canine to carry on a conversation with her or his human companion.

One is reminded of this eventuality in the new film “Siberia,” when our soul-and-psyche searching hero Willem Dafoe beds his team down for the night in a cave, where figures from his past and his nightmares visit him by firelight.

As the naked dwarf woman labors into the light in her wheelchair and utters “I just wanted to save the best. I just wanted to save the best,” we cut to the pack, staring at her and Dafoe in a quizzical way any critic or film fan will recognize. Their expression says the same thing I’ve heard shouted in cinemas or film festivals, and not always shouted by me.

“WTF Abel Ferrara?” they unmistakably wonder. “W? T? F?”

Dafoe has become the muse for the “Bad Lieutenant/King of New York” director and once-and-always bad-boy of American indie cinema, Ferrara. We’re allowed to read “director’s alter ego” into Dafoe’s performances here and in “Tommaso,” and “4:44 Last Day On Earth,” and maybe in “Go Go Tales,” if not in “Passolini.” The fact that Dafoe’s character, Clint, literally faces off with his own alter ego, and the ghost of his surgeon father (also Dafoe) in this film tends to underline that viewers’ “permission” to leap to conclusions.

So what is Ferrara putting on the screen that he might be better off telling to his psychotherapist this time?

Dafoe’s Clint is in a sort of mental Siberia, a loner running a bar “in the far north,” Canada we’re told (it’s an Italian co-production, so no, the Alps). He serves Eskimos who tell him their drink order and we assume how their day went and what not in untranslated Inuit dialects.

A Russian grandmother babbles in untranslated Russian before showing off her granddaughter’s nude, pregnant torso, which Clint reacts to in ways that suggest this is his doing.

An ex-wife vision here, a grizzly attack nightmare there, Clint has issues that go beyond knocking back shots with his customers.

Ferrara’s Clint gives an ex-wife and a child the same trite rationalization that thousands of marriage counselors have rolled their eyes at and 400 middling playwrights and screenwriters have recycled before him.

“The only thing I’m guilty of is loving you too much.”

He’s come to this remote place to get away from civilization, although this could be all in his mind. When he hitches his team of huskies up for a run through the snow, past some sort of home invasion/mass execution, into that cave and eventually to an oasis in a north African desert, that “in his head” notion seems on surer ground.

I’ve found Ferrara’s cryptic, navel-gazing bent of late both tedious and yet fascinating in what he’s trying to get across about where his head’s at when he makes this or that self-reflective film.

“Siberia” is gorgeous to look at, taking in bits of Inuit culture and id/ego psychobabble and the forlorn romance of “escaping” civilization, running a bar in the middle of nowhere.

Clint arguing with himself over “You don’t live in the world” seems to be the point, assuming that we’re meant to find one. There’s a whole “search” for “the black arts” bit (Simon McBurney plays an alleged magician) that feels like a tangent a filmmaker who never met a tangent he didn’t pursue might have avoided.

Still, even though I didn’t much care for the movie, and took up the huskies’ question for them more than once — “W.T.F. Ferrera?” — I can say I didn’t mind the “escape” of it all. We can leave the “solutions” to this existential crisis on film to the shrinks, if indeed this ballsy, indulgent head-case of a filmmaker ever bothers to see one.

MPA Rating: R for strong sexual content, nudity/graphic nudity, some disturbing violence, and bloody images 

Cast: Willem Dafoe, Dounia Sichov, Fabio Pagano, Valentina Rozumenko and Simon McBurney

Credits: Directed by Abel Ferrera, script by Abel Ferrara and Christ Zois, A Lionsgate release.

Running time: 1:31

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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