Via Chicago
— Errata Movie Podcast —
2005, U.S.
director: Abel Ferrara

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.

Forest Whitaker plays a TV host examining the historical Jesus on a nightly broadcast, and Matthew Modine is the director and star of a controversial Biblical film. Modine agrees to appear on Whitaker’s show, boosting both of their careers, but one person they can't yoke to their PR efforts is Juliette Binoche who plays Mary Magdalene in Modine’s movie. She’s been so transformed by the experience that at the end of the shoot she drops everything and heads to Jerusalem.

Very little of this mess works in any conventional sense, but as the performances begin to redline — as Whitaker bottoms out and begs God to save his child and Binoche takes to the water like a fisher of men — the movie seems to examine the relationship between performance and contrition. All of these characters are actors; some of them are trying to open a channel to God while others are putting on a show intended to earn some grace. It’s a fitting topic for Ferrara, whose movies frequently embrace the same contradictions, and they’re all here in Mary. The excess, the guilt, and the search for truth are intriguingly jumbled with some assembly required.

This review also appears in print in Paste Magazine #22, June/July 2006.
Posted by davis | Link
Reader Comments
October 16, 2006, 03:58 PM

Congratulations for your re-designed blog and thanks for posting this paper-only review.
Your point in the first paragraph might very well be the crux of inachievement in the film : too much, too disparate, too superficial. Well it was my reaction to the film the same. Perhaps a baroque patchwork un-seamlessly assembled...

October 16, 2006, 04:30 PM

Thanks, Harry. I have a backlog of reviews that I intend to post, although I don't want this to be a dumping ground. I have fresh stuff, too. :-)

Yeah, I left Mary quite negative. But something about it still intrigues me. At the time, I hadn't seen anything else by Ferrara so it was an odd introduction. I watched The Bad Lieutenant, King of New York, and 'R Xmax before writing about Mary, and I think they all made me appreciate Ferrara's obsessions enough to revise my initial impression. His movies are abuzz even when they don't necessarily work (whatever that means).

Also Girish's Ferrara blog-a-thon and a chat I had with Carlos Reygadas (who mentioned Ferrara as a fave) further piqued my interest.

Mary is a mess, but I wouldn't mind to revisit it one day.

January 19, 2007, 05:12 AM

My favourite Abel Ferrara movie is still The Addiction.