Thursday, October 6, 2011

NYFF 2011: 4:44 Last Day on Earth (2011)


I attended the first public screening of Abel Ferrara's 4:44 Last Day on Earth with Mondocurry. It was a very special evening. Not only was the director there, but also stars Willem Dafoe, and Shanyn Leigh. This is a completely atypical film from Ferrara who is best know for his gritty and often violent films like King of New York and Bad Lieutenant.

The plot of the film has the end of life rapidly approaching. Our abuse of the enviorment has depleted the ozone layer and it's believed that at 4:44 (give or take a few seconds) the world will end as far as life is concerned. In their apartment on Essex Street and Delancy in Manhattan a couple tries to come to terms with the approaching end of everything.

I had been warned at several press screenings that Abel Ferrara had made a mess of a film. It was self indulgent and rambled on and on to no point. I was told that I was going to be bored to tears.

What film did the critics who spoke ill of the film see?

Okay yes the sex scenes get monotonous, but outside of that this is an intriguing film that upsets everything you know or expect from an end of the world tale.

First off in typical New York fashion, life goes on. There is traffic and food delivery.(The food delivery results in an extremely moving scene when the delivery man asks to use Dafoe's Skype hook up to say good by to his family on the far side of the world.)

Secondly there is no crazed behavior. The world seems to have accepted the end and waits for it to come. as Ferrara said after the film what would be the point of going crazy? He added that there would be no point in looting since you'd never be able to use the TV you stole.

The film is a wonderful mediation on religious thought. As the world ends Leigh is constantly watching Buddhist lectures. We see symbols from various churches. The film is very Zen, a point pointed out by the director who said the film is ultimately about how we might react if we saw the world as having no tomorrow. In the films case there is literally no tomorrow, however in our lives, there is a choice. Those choices will effect how we interact with the people around us.

Did I mention that the film is also a love story?

One of the things about the film that I loved was that it doesn't do anything you think it should. As I've said the film takes every end of the world cliche and tosses it out the window. For the most part this is a film about real people and not the movies' idea of what people are.

...though I will be the first to admit that in a couple of places the dialog can get a little too philosophical..on the other hand I can't imagine not trying to come to grasp with the end with out looking to philosophy.

I'm not going to lie and say this film is for everyone, it's not. After all I was told by several people at the press screening that the film wasn't really good. I on the other hand really liked it, especially the more I think about it.

Will you like it? Well, if you want action and sex and violence look elsewhere. As I said, this is not your typical Abel Ferrara film. If you don't like thoughtful meditations you should also look elsewhere. The same goes for anyone who wants to see the same old same old. If on the other hand you want to see a unique vision about the end of the world that is also about other things, then see this film.

Frankly, this is the sort of treasure that I think of when I think of what a film festival should be.

If you want a challenging little confection see this film.

(If what I heard was right this film is due for release on Valentines Day from IFC Films.)

Here's Willem Dafoe, Shanyn Leigh and Abel Ferrara at the post screening discussion (A huge thank you to Mondocurry for the photo)

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