The Funeral, 1996

© October Films

You sold your soul. You got twen’y, BUT YOU SOLD YOUR FUCKING SOUL YOU LITTLE TRAMP.


Who the hell looks this good while shaving? When Ray (Christopher Walken) is shown shaving for those few seconds, the keen viewer can see that the cat is just that, even when he’s shaving. Watch closely as Ray moves the rhodium plated fat handle-razor across his face in quick strokes. He makes faces as he sees his reflection in the mirror. As the blade whittles the chin, he snarls, he becomes the devil, he becomes the daddy of badass. Yet, all of that with the all-pervasive ‘coolest fucker ever‘ vibe. I mean who the fuck grinds like Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade while shaving? This man was born to perform. 

Abel Ferrara (Pasolini, 2014) directs the picture with a tonal melancholy that runs deep within the genre. This picture is so much better, jolting, and in control; technically and (behind the scenes) emotionally compared to his previous affairs with the New York Police, the Church, Madonna and Harvey Keitel (Bad Lieutenant, 1992).

Once again, the gonzo filmmaker (Ms. 45, 1981), the provocateur, the controversial, addicted to heroin, addicted to Harvey Keitel – who brings quite grace to films where the two have collaborated – the proverbial bad-boy of Hollywood is tempted to lace a film with the famous Ferrara drug induced mysticism, however, something holds him back this time (Walken, perhaps). However not all the way, we still see glimpses of deprivation and addiction throughout the film. Plus, the trademark Church vs. sex intercuts’ are a plenty. The Funeral is in control of itself even though it may have snorted some coke on the way, and keeps doing so, concealed. The clandestine approach makes something happen on screen, and the result is pure dark, hotblooded brilliance. 

The opening sequence introduces the brothers to us very briefly (one of them is lying dead in a casket). However, the characters and their temperament and personage (kinks) are established, almost completely, right then. The dead brother turns out to be a nonconformist, a free spirited man, mainly shown as flashback. What we see in the coffin, is the consequence of such attributes in a highly disciplined business. I’ve seen legitimate syndicates behave way more unethically than these gangsters, who fight with each other over ruling New York. Wasn’t that made clear in 1990, with Ferrara’s Robin Hood, the chillingly ambiguous, stylishly violent, the drug lord parable, King of New York.
The film feels more serious; a man dedicated to his cast more than a project can end up making a strange movie but this baby defines class (punctuated with the signature morbidness and the obscene ideology of Ferrara).

Then there’s the volatile and electrifying Chez played by the very talented Chris Penn (1965-2006), God bless his soul, who rattles the entire film with his uncontrollable rage and the facade of calm that he wears to work and sometimes to bed. However, once there’s a breach, it keeps cracking open until it fully breaks and we watch Chez blow up all over the screen. Penn was a big guy, and he uses this to add to his terrific and terrifyingly and emotionally explosive performance. Chez is shown to not have the capacity to think rationally when faced with dilemmas and the deaths of close ones or the statue of a Belgian Saint. Simultaneously, the detachment from it all or perhaps hanging to it with the same fury he shows earlier, makes this performance one of the best by Penn and also one of the best ever. 

Who the hell waltzes to his victims with the intention of severing the limbs? Michael Madsen, with the sliced off cop’s ear in the gut-wrenching debut by Tarantino; Reservoir Dogs, 1992?
OK, let me put it this way; who the hell waltzes to his victims and looks this damn classy, almost debonair. Who the hell keeps playing with his hands all through the film? Who the hell always dons a black suit, a black tie, a white shirt and black shoes and looks different and even more cool every time? Walken is an ice sculpture in The Funeral, melting every second (in style) as the heat rises around him. Watch out for a fatal dialogue exchange; watch the cat closely. Remarkable film-making. 

‘The Funeral has a simple narrative a simpler plot. It is the way it unfolds is where the genius lies, the steady and confident direction by Ferrara, the performances, the absolutely brilliant supporting cast (Del Toro‘s Gaspare although seems a little out of place, just a tiny bit). 

There’s also Vincent Brown Bunny Gallo as the youngest brother Johnny (have you ever watched an Italian mafia film without someone with that name? I haven’t) who puts in a great deal in to this film. Much less than his later films; and that is a good thing for everyone, even Coppola. The only guy after Ferrara who can keep this ticking-bomb of an actor under control.
The Funeral (1996)

The Funeral is an extraordinary film, with remarkable performances, and the with its thematically extreme bent, proves once again that Abel Ferrara is a master of a genre that revealed itself to him during a speedball rush. Not just harry but speedball. It has to be powerballing. I say that to convey the fatalistic and the underlying recklessness and unease that make Ferrara’s films what they are; highly inflammable and magnificent.

A must watch.

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