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USA 2005
Directed by
Abel Ferrara
83 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4.5 stars


Abel Ferrara’s remarkable and challenging film which won the Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival is, very briefly, a multi-layered exploration of spiritual crisis and religious faith in a contemporary setting. Juliette Binoche plays a film actress who has had a breakdown after playing Mary Magdalene, Matthew Modine plays the director and Forest Whittaker is a TV presenter who is hosting a top-rating talking heads show about Jesus. All three are profoundly influenced by their involvement in the Christ myth.

Like Scorsese, Ferrara is an Bronx-born Italo-American who was raised a Catholic and , not surprisingly, Judeo-Christian concepts of guilt and redemption are core elements of his world view. Scorsese had a crack at the Jesus and Mary story with the awful The Last Temptation Of Christ (1988) but Ferrara does something infinitely more interesting, and somewhat Godardian, by placing it within a contemporary "media" context (Godard did his own re-imagining of Mary’s story with Hail Mary, 1985).

Written by Scott Pardo from a story by Ferrara, Mario Isabella and Simone Lageoles, Mary is one of those films that is so thematically rich as to be disorienting, one that you want to return to in order to re-examine your initial perceptions and thoughts. Whittaker gives a stand-out performance but Matthew Modine, a deceptively young-looking actor who had some starring roles in the 80s before dropping off the radar, is equally strong in his role and Juliette Binoche, although having little in the way of dialogue, effectively manages to bring home her character’s extreme mental state. That these actors come across so well is in part due to Ferrara who uses the filmic means at his disposal to engage with them and develop the drama with consumate skill.




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