Mary Abel Ferrara

Abel Ferrara has never made a secret of his own tortured relationship with Catholicism. He's the angry, unruly counterpart to Martin Scorsese - from The Driller Killer to The Bad Lieutenant, he's been obsessed with sinners who stumble their way towards redemption, and he wallows in the depths of their sin like nobody else. In a way it seems natural that he'd want to make a cinematic response to Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, in the form of Mary, his new film about Hollywood and religion. Oddly enough, it's a fairly unconvincing effort. There are three interlocking arcs in Ferrara's film. There's a glib, superficial Hollywood actor (played by Matthew Modine) who makes his own "Christ" film called This is My Blood and then haughtily revels in the controversy. Then there's a TV interviewer (Forrest Whitaker) who goes from intellectual detachment to desperate acceptance and engagement with the idea of Christ when he faces a personal tragedy. Then there's an actress (played by Juliette Binoche) who, having played Mary Magdalene in the aforementioned film, is so moved and haunted by the experience that she stays in Israel on her own spiritual journey. Ferrara has a lot to say and he trips over himself to do it. In a way, Mary is about the hubris of even attempting to understand or control religious experiences, but once you throw up your hands in resignation, what is there to say? He gives us the spectacle of Forrest Whitaker kneeling in a church, weeping and pleading to a crucifix to spare the life of his ailing wife and child. He shows us Juliette Binoche shuffling through a spiritual pilgrimage in Israel in a somnambulistic daze. And then there's Matthew Modine, laughing like a maniacal villain from a Batman movie as he storms the projection booth and insists that his film be shown despite a bomb threat. None of this is particularly moving and it's not as grandly operatic as it sounds. Ferrara is back in his old stomping ground, but he's trying to sing way above his range. Based on this film, he hasn't the right temperament to offer up a cogent theoretical statement about faith and spirituality. He's better at working from the guts and offering up his own dark side for cinematic empathy and self-flagellation. (De Nigris/Central/Associated Filmmakers)