The film opens with a blank screen and a voiceover by Willem Dafoe, which we know is him because (a) the words “Willem Dafoe” appear in large type on the screen, and (b) we all know what Willem Dafoe sounds like. He tells a tale of a childhood trip with his father to Canada where every night he tried to get to the outside toilets and back without being bitten by the huskies.
The film opens, and what do you know? There’s Willem Dafoe, all grown up. He’s working in a bar someone remote and cold. Maybe Canada or Alaska, or maybe, you know, Siberia. The bar is empty.
A punter comes in and he’s an Inuit who doesn’t know any English and Willem (henceforth known as Clint) doesn’t know any Inuit so it takes a while before he gets the right bottle and pours the customer some rum and then a customer is playing the slot machine and losing and then he has 9s in the left and right column and just as it looks like the centre column will also see a 9 he is savaged by a husky which has just appeared from nowhere and then a Russian looking woman appears with her mother or more likely grandmother who is dressed as a Babushka and they order vodka in Russian, which is easier as the Russian for vodka is vodka and the younger woman opens her dress to show her bare breasts and pregnant belly and Clint kisses the belly and then they go to bed together leaving the babushka in the bar and then Clint wakes up alone and goes into the cellar and falls down a steep cliff and then he sees his father’s reflection in a pool of water but it isn’t his father though it looks like his father and then he takes the huskies and drives them through the snow and then they pass a house full of burning bodies and children trying to escape but the children are being machine gunned by soldiers and then they stop for the night in the cave and Clint sees a naked female dwarf in a wheelchair and then the woman gets out of the wheelchair and starts dancing and then Clint sees an old girlfriend and then a black haired woman who he sleeps with and then she’s Chinese and then black and then blonde and then its his mother and then the huskies are driving through a desert and then Clint meets an African looking doctor and then a magician and then a healer who speaks new age gibberish and then the people sitting next to me in the cinema or as next to me as social distancing allows leave the cinema loudly and then Clint sees his father who is performing surgery and his father offers him a scalpel and then an Inuit brings a fish which Clint cuts up and gives to the huskies and then the fish starts talking and then Clint looks up and sees the bright sky and then the end credits roll and I’ve missed half of the film and misremembered much of the rest but it doesn’t really matter does it?
I’m tempted to call this a terrible film, doubly so after I read afterwards that its supposed to be about dreams and Carl Jung and you should do some background reading before going to see it (I’ll be the judge of that thank you very much). But it always looks spectacular, and Willem Dafoe always has a certain presence, whatever film he’s in.
In a different world, it could have been a companion piece to one of Dafoe’s recent films “The Lighthouse”, which was bizarre and compelling and mad as toast. Except “Siberia” isn’t compelling, it just weaves along in no particular direction, giving us no real reason to follow it. For all its madness, The Lighthouse had a tight structure. Siberia has no structure at all.
You get the feeling that director Abel Ferreira is daring us to call his bluff, to ask “What’s all this about?” or even “Why?”, but that even putting such questions would lose our arthouse credibility. Well, I’m calling bullshit. Its nice to look at Dafoe always oozes a certain charm, but that’s it. No more, no less.