Wednesday, September 28, 2011

NYFF 2011: Abel Ferrara's 4:44 Last Day on Earth

There sure do seem to be quite a few films about the end of the world at this year's New York Film Festival.  Whether it be literal (Melancholia, 4:44 Last Day on Earth) or metaphorical (The Turin Horse, and I guess in a way, The Loneliest Planet) the world sure is getting the brunt of it at this year's fest.  

Abel Ferrara's latest (one of the aforementioned literal ones) is the story of the last few hours before the Earth is destroyed by the inevitable collapse of the Ozone Layer (a newscaster in the film even utters the soon-to-be-classic line "Al Gore was right" before signing off forever).  I can honestly say that 4:44 was not what I was expecting.  That declaration is not necessarily a good thing nor a bad thing - and the same can be said of the film itself.  Part experimental improv-like character piece, part religio-political diatribe on ethics and faith, 4:44 is one of those films that I am not sure I liked or not.  Different parts of me want to go in both directions - sometimes simultaneously.  And that can be quite maddening you know.

Shot on video (and not in any redeeming cinematic way), Ferrara's movie is full of inconsistencies and doubts.  Why, if the world is about to end, and everyone knows it, are there cabs and buses and delivery trucks still buzzing about on the streets of New York in all the exterior shots?  Why do we only see a handful of people who are upset by what is going on?  Has everyone made piece with their so-called maker as Ferrara's pseudo Eastern pop spirituality would have us believe?  Perhaps these are just minor things, since in essence the film is about the inter-workings of a couple, an ex-junkie and his just past teenage bride, played by Willem Dafoe and Ferrara's real-life main squeeze, Shanyn Leigh respectively, and they are really the only ones that matter here.  As far as they go, Dafoe hands in a rather good performance overall, (given the room to rant and rave and gnarl and gnash, the actor is in his sacred ground) but there are moments in said performance that are enough to make a person cringe with embarrassment for the actor.  As for costar Leigh, those cringes of embarrassment are more often and more intense. That can't be good, now can it?

I suppose, in the end, there are moments in the film, er, movie, that are interesting, (visually there are a few wow moments actually) but in sum, it is rather a large-sized let down.  Respecting him, but never being that big a fan of Ferrara's work (liked some, disliked some, others are flawed but still interesting) I suppose my disappointment shouldn't be that great (I truly only loved two of the director's works - I will leave you alone to figure out which two) and I suppose it isn't really.  Merely a meh movie, and not really worth the time to be pro or con for or against, nothing else need be said.  Well, except for this - the film, picked up by IFC, will make its US theatrical debut probably sometime in early 2012 - and a full review will be coming at that time.


kat edmiston said...

Last night i watched Ferrara and Dafoe on Charlie Rose, and was intrigued by the film, which i haven't seen. I think your criticism that in the film, life is depicted as still going on as normal, is off base. In the first place, not everyone will believe it is the end. And anyway, what else is there to do? The folks who have beliefs will be at peace, and the folks who don't, won't care. Do you expect everyone to just sit down and stand still just because it is the END? Even in the end, life will still go on...(know what i mean?). Previous to the "4.44" interview, Charlie Rose spoke to Wim Wenders about his new release in 3D about the dance art of Pina Bausch. Wenders said he cried while viewing her work for the first time. Did that really happen, or did he just want to be the male protagonist in Almodovar's "Habla Con Ella" who really does cry while watching Pina Bausch. In this case, life is definitely imitating art.

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