"All we have is each other" seems to be the takeaway message of American maverick Abel Ferrara's latest film. As a core statement, it fits right in with Mr. Ferrara's ongoing fetishisation of a certain decadent-romantic New York City and of an against-all-odds concept of independently-financed and -minded cinema, as seen in his latest films, 2007's Go Go Tales (actually shot in Rome) and the 2008 documentary Chelsea on the Rocks. But, combative as the director can be, 4:44 Last Day on Earth seems to be a requiem for that idea of independent cinema, for a creative freedom that seems to no longer exist. Which would all be well and good if you were left with something that would prove Mr. Ferrara still had what it takes to raise those colours.

     Instead, 4:44...'s conflagration of sex and art and use of modern technology (laptops, TV screens, cellphones, Skype) to frame its story of a New York couple (Willem Dafoe and Shanyn Leigh) waiting for the end of the world seem like a clueless attempt from a tired director to make something that will be simultaneously personal and relevant to contemporary audiences. It suggests nothing so much as the director raging against the dying of the light and undecided whether he wants to go quietly or with a bang. Admittedly, the fact that Mr. Ferrara cast Ms. Leigh, his current partner, and Mr. Dafoe, a long-time collaborator, and that he has raged regularly in interviews against the current state of American independent cinema pretty much allows these readings; 4:44... is his first feature in five years, done entirely with European and Latin-American financing, and Go Go Tales practically took those five years to find an American distributor.

     But this is a surprisingly wan film, a ragged, shapeless tale of two people trying to make the best of their final moments on Earth, but unable to find any sort of transcendence in a half-hearted series of trite, unconvincing clichés, extended scenes and underscripted, freewheeling performances. Infrequently, the old, fiery Abel Ferrara surfaces - especially in a stunning, feral bathroom scene, and in a lovely, moving kitchen goodbye - showing glimmers of what could have been, but not enough to make up for what 4:44... so obviously isn't. Quite a disappointment.

Starring: Willem Dafoe, Shanyn Leigh; Natasha Lyonne, Paul Hipp, Anita Pallenberg, Dierdra MacDowell, Paz de la Huerta, Pat Kiernan, Tiara Jackson
Director/writer: Abel Ferrara
Cinematography: Ken Kelsch  (colour)
Music: Francis Kuipers
Designer: Frank de Curtis
Costumes: Moira Shaughnessy
Editor: Anthony Redman
Producers: Juan de Dios Larraín, Pablo Larraín, Peter Danner, Vincent Maraval, Brahim Chioua (Fabula, Funny Balloons, Wild Bunch in association with Bullet Pictures)
Chile/Germany/France/USA, 2011, 82 minutes

Screened: IndieLisboa Festival 2012, Culturgest, Lisbon, April 28th 2012


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