Cannes 2017: Abel Ferrara’s Alive in France

On Film / The Daily — May 22, 2017

Abel Ferrara’s “visits to Cannes almost invariably turn into special occasions, whether he's hosting an off-fest screening of an incendiary Dominique Strauss-Kahn film à clef or, in 2008, offering his opinion of the Bad Lieutenant remake,” writes Ben Kenigsberg at RogerEbert.com. “But the concert film Alive in France finds Ferrara at his mellowest. It's basically a hangout movie, in which Ferrara mugs, shares memories and performs with musicians who have contributed to his movies, notably Joe Delia, Paul Hipp, and Hipp's wife, Christina Chiriac.”

“There should have been a third member of the band,” notes Wendy Ide in the Guardian: “the rapper Schoolly-D. Unfortunately, he has been hit by a temporary travel ban, and remains in the U.S. Ferrara does his best to fill in by rapping in his own distinctive style. It’s a style which has as much in common with a tramp ranting at a bus stop as it does with hip hop. Since Ferrara is in front of the camera for the vast majority of the film’s slender running time, we get to witness him directing. From the evidence on screen, it seems he favors the same kind of barely controlled chaos in his filmmaking as he does in the preparations for the gig.”

Screen’s Tim Grierson finds that “Ferrara’s concert film is very much like his features—gritty, raw, idiosyncratic—but Alive in France might be the first time viewers could reasonably call one of his works endearing, even sentimental. Documenting a series of performances the 65 year-old director gave in France in October 2016 as part of a career retrospective, the movie is both a ragged lark and an accidental portrait of the artist as the consummate seat-of-his-pants hustler, doing whatever it takes to put his vision out into the world.”

“The meat of the film is the songs themselves, a mixtape selection of cover versions and originals stretching right back to Ferrara's 1979 feature debut Driller Killer,” writes Stephen Dalton in the Hollywood Reporter. “The quality levels vary but most are grounded in vintage saloon-bar rock, grungy and unpolished. Hollow-eyed and vulpine, with a voice as dry as Biblical parchment, Ferrara proves to be a surprisingly magnetic front-man.”

“A humorous motif during the Toulouse portion of Alive in France finds the director always on the hustle, ending each conversation with a sales pitch for the upcoming concert,” notes Bradley Warren at the Playlist. “One thing is for certain: the director isn’t mugging for the camera. This is pure Ferrara, as evidenced by the interviews within the film, or—in one of those ‘only in Cannes’ moments—if you happen to catch a glimpse of him walking down the Croisette (not shilling Alive in France, mind, but likely his upcoming Siberia).”

More from Bénédicte Prot at Cineuropa.

Update, 5/23: Lawrence Garcia and Kurt Walker’s video interview with Ferrara and his collaborators is up at the Notebook (14’43”).

Update, 5/26: “Ferrara hasn’t had a hit, even a micro-indie cult hit, in decades,” writes Variety’s Owen Gleiberman. “As an artist, he left the loop of influence long ago, but as an underground celebrity beatnik who drags his mystique around with him like a ratty ball and chain, he’s irreplaceable. The first time I ever went to Rome, I was strolling, on my first day, down Via Veneto, and there—of course!—was Ferrara (he lives there), not just walking but skulking, dressed in a nice jacket but still looking like the Hunchback of Notre Dame as an aging poet-derelict. I thought: Who needs more Abel Ferrara movies? Abel Ferrara is a movie.”

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