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

As he nearly always does, Ferrara splits the critics.

"It's only natural," finds Jaime N Christley in Slant, "that Abel Ferrara's vision of the end of the world should take corporeal form as a quasi-autobiographical hangout movie, since that's been the kind of environment he's been building over the last few years, working with ever more limited means, turning the camera inward, even lightening up a little. Like Lars von Trier's Melancholia, 4:44 Last Day on Earth presents the apocalypse not so much as an exercise in genre play as an exercise in airing the auteur's predilections, and an auto-therapeutic exorcism of the artist's demons."

"Likely his most personal work, it's also ironically the most life-affirming in a career defined by anger and grime," writes indieWIRE's Eric Kohn. "Ferrara has gone soft without selling out…. This is the quintessential New York filmmaker's belated post-9/11 movie, committed to coming to terms with chaos."

In the New York Times, Stephen Holden finds 4:44 to be "turbulent but shallow. The precise moment the ozone layer disappears has been calculated, and as the heavens spin with weird, misty lights, the Lower East Side neighborhood in which Last Day on Earth is filmed prepares for the end. The central couple (Willem Dafoe and Shanyn Leigh) are tiresomely embattled lovers who in between fighting and clinging to each other, contact family members via Skype. The homemade montage sequences are packed with Mr Ferrara's usual religious imagery."

"Much of 4:44 feels like it was made in a drug-induced haze, the rest during a depressive, splitting-headache hangover," suggests Keith Uhlich in Time Out New York. "Neither mode is particularly rewarding."

"Ferrara's overheated hipster-boy tales work pretty well when his lead actor is memorable and quirky enough to spin the maudlin material into fool's gold, the way Harvey Keitel did in Bad Lieutenant," writes Elise Nakhnikian in the L. "Better yet is a star with a sense of humor, who can counterbalance Ferrara's shallow depth and leaden self-pity with a lightness of spirit, maybe even a little fancy footwork, like the seemingly impromptu little dances Chris Walken tossed into King of New York. And best of all is when the supporting cast, including the obligatory babes, can command our attention even with their clothes on. But pair Ferrara with an equally self-regarding star like Dafoe and a charisma-free leading lady like Leigh, who alternates between doughy impassivity and hysteria, and you're in for a long 82 minutes."

"The eerie calm with which Ferrara's world greets its last hours may be absurdly unbelievable, but there's something entrancing about it as well," finds John DeFore in the Hollywood Reporter. "Occasional comic notes, like the sight of people through a gym's window, still working off calories when they could be enjoying no-regrets final dinners, balance an elegiac tone which might just as well be mourning the real-world passing of Manhattan's Downtown bohemia."

"Apocalyptic but filled with love," wrote Daniel Kasman from Venice. Blogging for Sight & Sound, Guido Bonsaver adds, "This is not science-fiction; it's Ferrara's own adieu to a world gone by."

Notes from the press conference: Brian Brooks (indieWIRE) and Eugene Hernandez (FSLC).

Viewing (6'32"). Ferrara discusses his experience in Venice.

Update: "When Cisco longingly watches his friends over Skype as they hold an end-of-the-world jam session," writes Jonathan Pacheco at the House Next Door, "or when he lends his webcam to the Asian delivery boy so he can give his final, untranslated goodbyes to his own family, the film finds the poignancy it's been seeking all along, but these moments are sadly the exception to the rule."

Updates, 10/6: "The film was shot on video, lending this unconventional apocalypse tale a fittingly lo-fi texture," writes Pasquale Cicchetti at Reverse Shot. "Many at the festival audience I saw it with were taken aback by the odd mix of grand narrative and bare-bones aesthetic. Yet hidden within Ferrara's distinctly disordered approach, 4:44 achieves an unexpected, powerful simplicity."

"Ferrara, in the press conference following the screening, admitted a certain amount of debt to the disaster genre, but he seems unaware of the emotional stakes required for such an endeavor," finds Drew Taylor at the Playlist.

Update, 10/11: At Filmmaker, Scott Macaulay presents of clip of Ferrara recalling the chilly NYFF press conference that followed a screening of King of New York in 1990. He "then talks about his new film from the viewpoint of sobriety."

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As usual, people find it easier to say something ignorant about Ferrara’s films than to actually engage with the work. “He seems unaware of the emotional stakes required for such an endeavor”? Really? The film is emotion. There’s nothing else there. That, in fact, is what separates it from the disaster genre. If you can’t see that, you don’t know what you’re looking at.
“He seems unaware of the emotional stakes required for such an endeavor” Sounds like the worst of my old film school teachers.

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