Abel Ferrara’s Mary (2005), which tells the story of a movie star who is deeply affected by her performance of Mary Magdalene, played in European theatres a few years ago and has been available on DVD there for some time, too. But it has never been released in Ferrara’s native New York — until now. The New York Times has this to say, in a profile of the director that ran today:
Mr. Ferrara’s 15th feature, “Mary,” which had its premiere at Venice in 2005, is only now having a run in New York. (It opens on Friday at Anthology Film Archives.) Like “Dangerous Game” and “The Blackout,” his 1997 drama about a bender-prone movie star, it revolves around a film within the film — in this case a biblical indie called “This Is My Blood.” The leading lady (Juliette Binoche) is so shaken by playing Mary Magdalene that she decamps for Jerusalem. Back in New York a television talk show host (Forest Whitaker) finds himself struggling with his faith as he prepares to interview the Jesus movie’s brash director and star (Matthew Modine, in a role that inevitably calls to mind Mel Gibson but also contains strong elements of the freewheeling Mr. Ferrara).
“Mary” is simply the most direct expression of spiritual crisis in a filmography riven with Catholic notions of guilt and redemption. “I don’t know how anyone with half a brain can make a movie that’s not about those things,” Mr. Ferrara said. “The Catholic thing is so ingrained in our upbringing. Where I come from you’re not raised to think on your own. It’s not that you’re pushed to read the Bible. The Bible is read to you.” But when he started working on “Mary” — “living within three blocks of the Vatican,” he noted — he revisited the Bible and this time approached it “as a revolutionary tome.”
Mr. Modine, who first worked with Mr. Ferrara on “The Blackout,” said via e-mail that he and Mr. Ferrara prepared by poring over ancient scripture. “Abel and I tried to strip away the interpretations and poetic language,” he said.
Like a more serious and angst-ridden “Da Vinci Code,” the film draws on Gnostic texts that have offered alternate views of the life of Jesus and the origins of Christianity. (Several theologians, including Elaine Pagels, author of “The Gnostic Gospels,” are enlisted as interview subjects on Mr. Whitaker’s talk show.) With its sincerely ambivalent efforts to plumb the nature of belief, it’s the rare movie that could stand as a rebuke to both “The Passion of the Christ” and “Religulous.”
Mr. Ferrara pointed out that “Mary” won not just jury and critics prizes at Venice but also the ecumenical award sponsored by a Catholic communications organization — or, as he proudly overstated it, “the Vatican seal of approval.”
So … any chance this film will play in any other North American cities? Such as, oh, Vancouver? And are there any plans yet to release this film on DVD over here?