He’s always needed named actors who will go all the way, the dedication of six-time collaborator Willem Dafoe to maintain his recent career. Ethan Hawke is the star this time, playing twins – soldier JJ and revolutionary Justin – on seemingly opposite sides of a plot to blow up the Vatican.
Ferrara was considering Zeros and ones‘ Rome as a “Casbah-esque” city with the atmosphere of Paris “at the end of the Occupation”. Made during full lockdown, it’s shot on curfew night, mostly gray and blue, watery and twilight light, empty buses rolling down empty streets, a spartan, paranoid production clinging gratefully to the plague zone strange of 2020. These depopulated scenes look like what they are: a very low budget film set in a true apocalypse.
Zeros and ones has many dead zones, empty scenes wandering in shadows and boredom. Vivid episodes sparkle, as JJ encounters a Russian homeless man wearing a suicide vest, Chinese prostitutes, and a woman and young child in a cramped apartment. He and the woman kiss through blue masks. A hazmat-friendly cleanup crew sounds like a sci-fi detail, but is probably documentary. And in the sudden golden light of a lavish hotel, Russian repairmen and beautiful female agents made a deal with the American ambassador for champagne and Norman Mailer threads. Hawke’s Jesus-haired Justin, shown below, meanwhile, is questioned – by the Mossad, perhaps – about his ambiguous relationship with possible Vatican bombs. Taciturn like JJ, here Hawke lets loose with revolutionary post-Dylan invectives. In times past, notes his captor, they might give castor oil to this “Participant” (supporter). “This machine kills fascists,” Justin says, as Woody Guthrie wrote on his guitar.
Hawke filmed his own intro before filming Zeros and ones, then his thoughts after watching it – considerably more compelling than the movie itself, which they now conclude. “The script is a really…not an exact term,” he notes of Ferrara’s initial plan. “I didn’t understand a word of it.” Still, “I felt like someone was up to something.” The cast that Ferrara has assembled to run through the eerie streets of Rome is indeed a team of polyglot bohemians, including a Turkish rug salesman, a Kazakh model and a stateless refugee. His idea of cinema is a camera and people in a room, and sometimes the reality of a situation, what he was “doing”, is taken: when a clean cut smacks us into two boxers smashing against each other, and when JJ is forced at gunpoint to impregnate a Russian agent (Ferrara’s wife, Cristina Chiriac), the awkward intimacy of the latter’s hotel room comes to a head. feeling watched.
Zeros And Ones is a very late Ferrara, in a century when only the outrageous Welcome to New York (2014), with a screamingly naked Gérard Depardieu as Dominique Strauss-Kahn-missing, found an audience. Exiled to Europe by American indifference, he returned to the underground, completing an intrepid and murderous career.
After directing and playing the role of The driller killer (1979), pictured aboveand directing another lively shocker, Ms 45 (1981), Ferrara’s breakthrough came alongside Tarantino’s in 1992, reservoir dogs a simple appetizer to the murderous return of Harvey Keitel the same year bad lieutenant (shown below) They shared other hardcore actors, such as Christopher Walken. “We all need a good shave” Watchmakers novelist/screenwriter Richard Price then told me about this testosterone-rich pack. “I think Tarantino is joking a bit. But Abel is a sick pup. He’s not joking. He’s serious as cancer, man. Ferrara spoke to me the same week from what looked like an underground bunker, although we let’s both be in New York, talking in the kind of funny, harsh jargon that Tarantino would struggle to write.Meeting him in London in 1997, as the period gangster film Funerals and monochrome allegory of vampires Addiction gave him his penultimate success on the court, the tough-guy front plummeted, and he spoke of a prolonged childhood in an upstate New York ‘rural paradise’ destroyed by dying friends in Vietnam, one of the sources of the violence and moral drama of his films.
Committed Catholic Nicholas St. John wrote many of these films. Ferrara said in 1997 that he was more “tester” than believer, wanting to remake the world that conventional religious definitions had helped build; Culturally Catholic, he now also claims Buddhism. His Zeros and ones the script intercuts with Christian Renaissance paintings and a voice-over by Hawke quoting Jesus (“The world is God’s hiding place”) and St. Francis of Assisi (“The hard way leads to a real life”). “How come no one else is on fire anymore?” Justin asks, referring to the Buddhist priest who did it at the start of the Vietnam War, combining Ferrara’s Original Sin and his current faith. Unlike his first films, the director, now sober and always on a spiritual quest, follows Zeros and ones‘ long night with a hopeful dawn, showing a renewed humanity in post-pandemic Rome, its smiling maiden at center stage.
St. John stopped working with Ferrara after Funerals. Cinematographer Sean Price Williams, best known for his work with the Safdie brothers and the more polished New York tales of Alex Ross Perry (Listen Philip) is a great replacement for former DPs Ken Kelsch (who did the Ferrara movies in Manhattan grime) and Bojan Bazelli (who did the 1990s king of new york look so rich). Regular songwriter Joe Delia delivers industrial slaughterhouse synth landscapes, forming a trio with vibrant guitar return from Danny Toan and Dylan bassist Tony Garnier, reminding you that Ferrara was raised with rock counterculture dreams. .
Zeros and ones makes you miss the finished craftsmanship of king of new york, Addiction Where Welcome to New York, none of which needed their star to tell you what just happened. It has some of the qualities of the later films of Donald Cammell, Nic Roeg or Suspiria‘s Dario Argento, where the old genius proves unstable or out of reach. In the conventional terms his poster invites, it can’t be said to be good. It is a film of shadows, elisions and interstices, to be watched in deep darkness. It may only fully exist in Ferrara’s dreams, and it is in dreams that its best scenes come back, emerging from the hiding place where its director lives.