October 24, 2008


Two weeks ago, I noted that Abel Ferrara’s Mary (2005), which stars Juliette Binoche as an actress who is deeply affected by her performance of Mary Magdalene, was finally coming to New York, years after it premiered in various European countries.

That engagement has come and gone, now, so here are some of the reviews and interviews that have popped up since my previous post.

Most significant is an interview that Ferrara did with FilmMaker magazine, in which he shares his views on the historical Jesus, the Gnostic gospels, and the role of women at the Last Supper, etc. Cinema Echo Chamber has a video interview with Ferrara, as well.

And then there are the reviews, and the sample paragraphs thereof.

Victor Morton, Rightwing Film Geek:

As for MARY, the less said, the better. I have no doubt that the prize it won at Venice was an f-you to Mel Gibson. It is not worthy of a prize at the world second-most-prestigious juried festival (and there’s lots of films I don’t like that I realize are aesthetically distinguished and “prize-worthy”. MARY is not. It is lazy, padded, unfocused and just felt unfinished and phoned-in.

Robert Davis, Paste Magazine:

Louder and more chaotic than its material seems to warrant, Abel Ferrara’s Mary feels like the condensed version of a much larger movie. It includes scenes from a religious epic, TV interviews, street fights, limo rides, infidelity, hypocrisy, apostasy, and conversion, but at a mere 83 minutes the whole thing’s over before it has even begun.

Daniel Kasman, The Auteurs’ Notebook:

When Ted questions the human and the spiritual in Jesus on his television show, when Marie leaves her fame as an actress for a life wandering between the Middle East and her “visions,” when Tony Childress fights to get his film viewed without any pre-judgment, locking himself in the projection booth, and, ultimately, when Ted’s dark night life—both work and play—leaves his wife dangerously alone, Mary is brashly asking the same frightful things across simultaneous scenes. Simplistic dramatic arcs are forsaken for utter and complete immediacy; Ferrara, like Samuel Fuller, delivers earnestness with a rare, complete, and often frightening directness. The vitality, the fear and the ecstasy of such a style, of Mary, makes the cinema of Abel Ferrara one of utter necessity.

M. Leary, Film – Think:

I have never actually liked Ferrara’s work, but I have also had a difficult time forgetting some of his most memorable images – such as the bad Lieutenant at the feet of Christ, which as a Jungian prefiguration of Gibson’s Jesus is one of the most effective Christ images in modern American cinema. Mary is likewise burdened by Ferrara’s “messiness,” but this time that messiness works with the grain of his characters in a realistic scramble for faith and redemption. Faith is messy, the search for the historical Jesus is messy, and fortunately, so is Ferrara’s film.

Leary also makes this brilliant comment at the Arts & Faith forum: “I completely disagree with the historiography and spirituality of the film, but I really enjoyed the way I disagreed with it.”

Other reviews are archived at Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic.

See also the scene analysis that Matt Page posted nearly two years ago, when the film came out on DVD in Europe.

October 12, 2008


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?

August 8, 2006


Remember Abel Ferrara’s Mary (2005), which stars Juliette Binoche as an actress who plays Mary Magdalene in a movie and then kind of loses herself in the part? The film has played in Europe, but not yet in North America; however, The Reeler says that might change soon, now that IFC Films has picked it up.

Jeffrey Wells says the eventual DVD release should include Rafi Pitts’s Not Guilty (2003), a documentary about Ferrara, as a bonus feature. Personally, I think it would be even more appropriate to package the film with Alex Grazioli’s Odyssey in Rome (2005), which chronicles the making of Mary.

November 25, 2005


Abel Ferrara’s Mary opens in France a few days before Christmas, and you can click here or here for links to QuickTime files for a trailer and three clips from the film (all in English, with subtitles).

It is interesting to see how the subtitles to the second clip translate Mary’s use of the Greek word “nous” into the French word “L’Intelligence” — capitalized, even! Since the Greek word is itself foreign to English ears, one could argue that it should have stayed Greek even in the subtitles; but perhaps there is a closer parallel between Greek and French philosophies on this point.

FWIW, the film’s website also has a trailer for a profanity-laden making-of documentary on Ferrara and his movie.

March 14, 2006

Here’s an odd tidbit from the latest report on the Da Vinci Code trial, courtesy of the Associated Press:

On Monday three years to the week after “The Da Vinci Code” was first published the multimillionaire writer found himself on the witness stand in courtroom 61 of London’s High Court, denying accusations of copyright infringement from authors Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh.

In a witness statement made public by lawyers as he took the stand, Brown said was “shocked at their reaction” to his book. But under questioning by the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Brown acknowledged that he could not always recall exact dates of milestones in the creation of his novel. Both books explore theories dismissed by theologians that Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute but Jesus’ wife, the couple had a child and the bloodline survives.

“I cannot possibly tell you the precise date I learned that Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute,” Brown told attorney Jonathan Rayner James in front of a courtroom packed with journalists, religious skeptics and fans.

So, um, are Baigent and Leigh seriously trying to take credit for the idea that Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute? My Protestant friends have always been quick to point out that there is no biblical support for this idea, and there is no support for it in Orthodox tradition either. It’s a uniquely Catholic thing.

FWIW, my favorite line on this is this quote from E.P. Sanders’ The Historical Figure of Jesus (pages 74-75): “Mary Magdalene has appealed enormously to people who have imagined all sorts of romantic things about her: she had been a prostitute, she was beautiful, she was in love with Jesus, she fled to France carrying his child. For all we know, on the basis of our sources, she was eighty-six, childless, and keen to mother unkempt young men.”

September 13, 2005

Variety reviews Abel Ferrara’s Mary, which won the Jury Grand Prix at the Venice film festival last week:

Maverick helmer Abel Ferrara’s Catholic angstfest “Mary” met with considerable disbelief after its first Venice screening, but the Ferrara faithful will recognize a partial return to form after several disappointments. Not quite a standout like “Bad Lieutenant,” but hardly a dud like “New Rose Hotel,” “Mary” reps a sincere grapple with faith and redemption in cynical times. Tricky construction, nesting a film within the film, hits plenty of duff notes. But passionate turns from Forest Whitaker and Juliette Binoche could be the touch of grace needed to get pic a distribution blessing after ancillary-only releases for the last few Ferrara pics.

Cocky American film director Tony Childress (Matthew Modine, amusingly channeling Ferrara’s persona) finishes helming a revisionist biblical drama shot in Italy called “This Is My Blood,” that stars him as Jesus and major Euro star Marie Palesi (Binoche) as Mary Magdalene. Portions show Mary not as a prostitute but rather a full fledged disciple locked in a power struggle with fellow-disciple Peter, and feature an intense perf by Binoche/Marie.

Having gone deep into the role, Marie has had some kind of spiritual epiphany. When it’s time to strike the set, she refuses to go home and sets out for Jerusalem.

A year later in Gotham, Ted Younger (Whitaker) hosts a slightly implausible weeklong, primetime nightly network TV special examining the historical truth about Jesus. Various experts (played by real-life scholars such as Jean-Yves Leloup, Amos Luzzatto and Elaine Pagels) and clergy discuss alternative gospels or issues in theology on the show.

Younger goes to see a press screening of “This Is My Blood” introduced by Childress. Younger asks Childress to appear on his show to discuss the film, which looks set to reap similar controversy to Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.” Younger would also like to book Marie on the show, but Childress claims not to know where to find her. . . .

Sounds interesting, to say the least.

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