The Funeral (1996)
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To complain about the lack of action in this gangster movie is to miss the entire point. This is a character study of people who have made choices in their lives that have left them without hope, in much the same way as Ferrara's "Bad Lieutenant". Although it is often pretentious and a little boring, it also contains many potent, unforgettable scenes, most notably those featuring Chris Penn, who I frankly didn't think could act until I saw this movie.
"The Funeral" is an unremittingly dark film that at times achieves a terrible beauty. I'm not sure that I would recommend it, but I am extremely glad to have seen it.
"The Funeral" is a violent movie directed by Abel Ferrara with great characters that are developed through flashbacks along the main storyline. There are great performances and scenes but unfortunately, it seems that neither the writer nor the director knew how to end the story that has an unsatisfactory conclusion. My vote is six.
Title (Brazil): "Os Chefões" ("The Bosses")
But the movie does have some problems. The abrupt, "surprise" ending is consistent with the arcs in the movie, and is supported by trends in the characters' developments, but seems unsatisfying. Also, long philosophical conversations between killer and victims seems unrealistic. While these conversations(and flashback sequences) give insight into characters, it just doesn't seem likely.
Watch this movie if you are a fan of crime/Mafia films, and you can enjoy a thoughtful introspection of characters and relationships between characters. Don't watch it if you want to see a "thrill-a-minute", or explosions every other scene.
The story here is straightforward however it's multi-layered flashbacks and subplots make it too confusing at times. In simple terms it is two stories Johnny before he is killed, and the lives of his brothers afterwards. The characters make it come to life but the drama inherent in the subject matter helps as well. The story mixes `real' lives, violence and some black humour to good effect the overall point being the point made by Sciorra when she says `there's nothing romantic about it at all'.
The cast are good in particular the Ferrara regulars. Walken gives a more emotional version of his King of New York character and carries much of the moral debate with himself and others. Penn is also good as the self destructive brother and gives a powerful performance without becoming OTT (a la Nice Guy Eddie). Gallo is good although his character is not fully explained why did he look for trouble, why the interest in worker's rights? Rossellini, Argo and Soprano's Ventimiglia are all good and del Toro does yet another quiet cool role.
Overall this is a good film it is graphic and dark, but not as much as some of his other films. The subject matter will appeal to the mass audience (most people seem to like mobster movies) and his unromantic spin on the genre makes up for the occasionally bitty storyline.
In fact, you don't need the patience to 'get' it, but to try to put yourself in the shoes of men who're nothing but criminals. But as criminals as they are, they are stuck with this last ounce of humanity giving a meaning to their lives. So let's get this straight, if you're among the kind of cinematic fans with a particular revulsion towards gangsters, this film is not for you, all it will inspire is the kind of demagogic comments such as "good riddance, all these low-life bastards deserve their fate". But if you're interested by the torments invading the souls of these underworld humans, prepare yourself for a disturbing and dark journey into Mafia's hearts of darkness.
It's interesting that the central character is played by Christopher Walken, the actor had always an extraordinary combination of mental instability and charismatic aura in his eyes, the kind of man you don't know if it's safe to approach or to avoid him, in both cases, you respect and fear him. But now, we're in this man's soul at a pivotal moment in his life, when he's trying to determine, during the funeral of his brother Johny (Vincent Gallo), not what the meaning of his life is, but how he can live with himself with his personal idea of justice and the satisfaction to do something ethical. Yeah, I see where you're coming from, how can I ever use the word 'ethic' for criminals? Well, ethics refers to a code, to some behavior that doesn't necessarily take the law as a reference, and from that point, anything is debatable. And when the movie says anything, it sure means it, as even God is concerned.
Although the movie is set during Catholic funerals, the first thing that strikes is the amount of blasphemous rants during the discussions. These men don't believe in God, but they don't sound atheists, it's just as if they had a proud reaction over a religion that casted them out anyway. So if they haven't been touched by the divine grace, which could have inspired them to be good people, so why do they have to blame themselves? If everything is due to God, why should they feel guilty? And now, if it all is a matter of free will, and decision, then what makes their acts more condemnable? Any idea of justice is no better or no worse than another the thought-provoking script invites us to feel an existential empathy toward these men, as if it tried to explicit all the dilemmas that fill the heart of criminals. After all, they have hearts, haven't they? To label them as only cold-blooded murders is another trick to avoid questioning our own approach to evil.
But whatever rationalization it tried to inspire, the counterpart of this thinking relies on the female characters, the wives, who endure the machismo of their husbands and try to figure what the purpose of all this is. Why and how have criminals, killers, fooled them? Some scenes between Annabella Sciorra and Isabella Rosselini suggest a sort of female bonding, as a reactive defensive process from the kind of fusional relationship between the brothers Christopher Walken, Vincent Gallo and Chris Penn -Rest in Peace, Chris, this was your finest performance as the most mentally instable of the three brothers- Never voyeuristic, these scenes of female intimacy where the discussions are intelligently combined with great metaphysic references, translate the lack of morality and belief innate to that cruel male world, and how it can hardly be expressed except in the confinement of a little bedroom.
The whole confinement of "The Funeral", in its setting, is crucial here. There is a cloud of lucidity floating in the air, as if the film trusted our intelligence, by not showing men trying to find excuses, but on the contrary, men extremely lucid about their fate. This is what the whole claustrophobic setting of the film is about, it's an extrapolation of the coffin, symbolizing the whole fate of the family in microcosm. These men are in a dead-end, and they know it damn well. During a heart-breaking scene between Chris Penn and a young prostitute, refusing to deprive her from her innocence, he pays her for not having sex, she asks for the double to have sex with him, provoking an incredible outburst of rage. She'll get paid twice the price then pushed against the wall and assaulted as a punishment for having sold her soul to the devil. This scene brutally reflects these men's understanding of their own conditions : they sold their soul, they know they'll never see the paradise. In other words: their lives are only a suspended sentence to hell. They don't believe in God, but they don't deny His existence either.
So, when it can't get any better, the best you can do is to make it better according to your own codes. And this is the constant disturbing feel of the film, men trying to act according to their sense of justice, their morals, trapped between their humanity and their evilness. Again, Abel Ferrara doesn't invite us to feel empathetic toward gangsters, as sometimes, the movie indecently flirts with some stereotypes to better remind us, the world lying beneath that sober and familial atmosphere. "The Funeral" reflects the affection of true funerals : a profound introspection in order to understand the value of goodness and humanity, because once you put your foot in the dark side, you can't go back, and it doesn't try to fool you with a sort of quest of redemption bullshit. They're grown-up men, and their life IS dead-end. To a point you wonder if the title "Funeral" refers to one man or three souls.
"The Funeral" is an extraordinary, dark and disturbing journey, that will simply wow you at the end so you better get ready.
Set in New York in the 1930s, the film centres on an organised crime family, headed by brothers Ray (Christopher Walken) and Chezz (Chris Penn) who are set to bury their younger brother Johnny (Vincent Gallo). As Johnny's wake progresses the two remaining brothers reflect on his life and try to track down his killer.
The film is pretty well made, and benefits from strong performances all round. It's main defect is that the film tends to lose focus and go off at tangents (scenes where Johnny attends a Communist rally were pretty pointless). Also, as in many Ferrara films, there is a very blatant religious subtext which sometimes gets in the way of the drama. Also, be warned that there is a lot of pretty brutal violence in this film.
If you like gangster films (and obviously if you're a Ferrara fan) give this a go. It's worth trying anyway just for the quality of the performances.