Mary by Abel Ferrara


Mary from Abel Ferrara

Nowadays, you read the two-sentence write-up inside the festival programme and you can assume with confidence a general sense of how the film will unfold. It’s your cinematic intuition and your repressed discomfort with formal achievements in new cinema. I got that feeling with Stesti and I was right.

Now, I liked this one very much because it surprised me.

I’m not too familiar with Ferrara but my understanding had been that he gets his kicks out of good performances. Not the case so here. Although, yes, the actors do a fine job, what really works is the way the thing is sculpted. We wonder where will the vision take us? Will it take us places we are unfamiliar with? Like Lynch?

What I call works of genius walk that fine line between familiar and unfamiliar. Lynch crosses too often for my taste, but this here hits a sweet spot. Not perfect, but almost.

As always with our man Abel, we get a movie about a movie. This time we have just that, but also a TV show, precisely about a movie (notice the three layers – movie about a tv show about a movie). But again, this is of little matter, it is vintage our man to self-reference in this manner. What we are interested in here is what people usually call ‘mood’. This is where the cinema takes place.

There is a moment where Binoche, is walking a desert road in Jerusalem. This image is superimposed seamlessly in a fade-in fade-out effect with our protagonist’s car on a New York highway at night, and a typical Ferrara skyline. My understanding is that this layering of images is vintage Abel. But in this clear multi-threaded story, the sweet essence of the film beautifully composes itself in this transitional part. How disciplined and sublime this is. It has a reverence that feels coincidentally religious.

And of course, in a movie about faith, we have the camera as God’s eye. It’s impressive the way we jump from movie, to movie-within, to TV show, without any discomfort, as though we’re in good hands. This is clearly one of the best faith movies precisely because it achieves this dancing about seamlessly.

I always thought Ferrara was an old coke addict tough guy who didn’t give a shit about continuity errors and the such and had a juvenile fixation on the crafting of cinematic gritty violence. Can’t think why I thought so. But you must see this at all costs. It is what ‘2046’ is to Wong.

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Categories: Notes

6 replies »

  1. “I always thought Ferrara was an old coke addict tough guy who didn’t give a shit about continuity errors and the such but had a juvenile fixation on the crafting of cinematic gritty violence and intense acting performances.”

    Oh, no, did you really? Time for a re-evaluation, methinks! Have you seen New Rose Hotel? Snake Eyes (a.k.a. Dangerous Game)? The Addiction? Track these films down, especially the first two, and see how completely Ferrara is able to do away with narrative, creating the exact structural nuances and ambiguities, with his images, sounds and the bodies of his actors, that you talk about in this post. You say the film is sculpted — that’s such a fantastic word to use for all of Ferrara’s work, the deep structures of which — the sheer excess of morals and ideas that run through the films like a life-force — are remarkable sculptures of cinema.

  2. Abel Ferrara is one of the best living directors today. It’s true that he has made a few films which aren’t very good. On the other hand, he has made some masterpieces such as The Addiction, New Rose Hotel, and China Girl. Whatever your tastes, it must be said that all of his films are passionate experiences.

  3. I don’t know- all I know is that Mr. Ferarra was graceful enough to give me an exclusive interview for my documentary EVERY MOVIE YOU MAKE. He talks about independent film-making in the digital era. Yeah, he comes across as a bit of an eccentric on the surface, but you should hear what he says. He knows alot about a craft he’s in love with.

  4. I would argue this is not the “best faith movie ever”, and I’m a little uneasy with the 2046 comparison (and the Lynch put down), but your point about a God’s POV is interesting. I’d like to take a look at that another time.

  5. I’ve just seen Mary on a French DVD. It hasn’t been released in the U.S. yet. It’s not the worst film Abel has made, but it’s far from his best. It left me emotionally cold.

    In the end, I felt I didn’t know any of the three characters. I didn’t like the actor, Forest Whittaker. I thought Matt Modine was scummy and I couldn’t believe this was a guy who would make a film about Jesus. And I was really disappointed in Juliette Binoche – she was fabulous in Blue, but here she gave the barest sketch of a character. One shot of her in Blue had more in it than the entire Mary.

    Mary’s supposed to take place in New York City, but I didn’t get a sense of that at all. The vibes are missing. From all the locales, including Jerusalem. One thing I love about Abel’s work is that you really feel you’re in Chinatown and Little Italy (China Girl), or at NYU (Addiction), or Times Square (Bad Lieutenant) You don’t get that in this film – it feels like it was shot in Europe, which it mostly was.

    I think it’s great that Abel continues to make things. Even his worst films are better than most of the stuff being made today. He’s done some great stuff, but Mary’s not one of them, alas.

    I hope Go-Go Tales gets distribution.

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