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Cain and Abel 

Controversial cult director Abel Ferrara gets a Roxie retrospective

Wednesday, Jan 9 2002
Abel Ferrara is a relentless explorer of calamitous ethics, and thus the perfect companion for New Year's soul-searching. A low-budget Scorsese (complete with the Catholic underpinning), the controversial New York City filmmaker outfits his characters with malfunctioning moral compasses, then directs them through ever deeper recesses of hell, sealing off the exits along the way. A cult director despite the unaccountable lack of distribution for his recent films, the notorious Ferrara edges back into the limelight with a one-week retrospective, "The Return of Abel Ferrara," at the Roxie.

Ferrara made his rep more than 20 years ago with a pair of take-no-prisoners flicks that trod the hallowed paths of Samuel Fuller and Alan Clarke. Driller Killer (Jan. 11-12) tracks the descent of a lunatic murderer while Ms. 45 (Jan. 13-14) is a stylish pre- Baise-Moi revenge fantasy, in which a twice-raped woman turns the barrel on men. (Ferrara is best known for Bad Lieutenant, the 1992 Harvey Keitel degradation romp that was a huge hit at the Roxie but isn't included in this series.) In a Ferrara movie, the desertion of conscience always coincides with the arrival of doom -- as it does in real life, only without the perfumed self-justifications.

At the very least, Ferrara's dark, visionary films provide (pick one) comfort or salvation. You can console yourself that your screw-ups pale next to Matthew Modine's druggy alcoholic abuses of Claudia Schiffer and Beatrice Dalle in Black Out (a 1997 drama finally receiving its Bay Area premiere Jan. 13-14). Alternatively, you could seize the opportunity to straighten up before your penny-ante office schemes devolve into the kind of nihilistic high-stakes industrial espionage that Christopher Walken, Willem Dafoe, and Asia Argento evilly embrace in New Rose Hotel (a 1998 adaptation of William Gibson's story, also premiering locally, Jan. 15-16). Or simply take pleasure in the knowledge that at least you don't have Abel Ferrara's nightmares.

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Michael Fox


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