by Abel Ferrara
Abel Ferarra's 4:44 Last Day on Earth (2011) marks the independent filmmaker's cinematic return to New York City. Set in a Lower East Side apartment building on the eve of an apocalyptic environmental collapse, the film centers on an upper-class bohemian couple played by Willem Defoe and Shanyn Leigh. Over the course of the film's slight 82 minute running time, the central pair fight, make love, and attempt to come to terms with their own mortality. Their tenuous connection to the outside world is sustained by the numerous computer, television, and tablet screens that fill their apartment and hover at the edge of the film frame. As the end of the world approaches, Skype becomes a kind of virtual umbilical cord that links scattered families back together. While Ferarra's vision of a still gritty, post-911 Manhattan is unabashedly nostalgic -- even sentimental -- his off-centered compositions and heightened sound design feels totally modern. With 4:44, Ferarra privileges the sensual flow of sound and image, establishing a meditative tone that departs from the linear structure of traditional film narrative. The massive, beautiful, and ever evolving painting that Leigh's artist character labors over throughout the film becomes an emblem for the larger work, emphasizing the film's real time structure, while also speaking self-consciously to the importance of leaving a lasting artistic legacy.