Monday, April 11, 2022

No One Gets Out of Here Alive: Abel Ferrara's "Alive In France"

Two things are made incredibly clear in "Alive In France", Abel Ferrara's documentary about his overseas promotional tour with his band while attending a retrospective of his films; first, he scratches together music with just as much abandon as he does film making. From the way he pieces together various drummers in each city to how he vigorously commands the light show at each club, Ferrara is an alpha auteur in every sense. Secondly, the documentary fits perfectly with his late career work of quieter, more reflexive pieces of cinema that act as love letters to both the creative process and the people he's chosen to align himself with. As he answers one patron in a Q&A session, the New York of his older films doesn't exist anymore, so why should he continue making films about gangsters? Well, "Alive In France" is still a Ferrara film, beating with the hard-scrabbled heart of his previous films but tinged with a sense of nostalgia and passion for his latest role in life. It makes him immensely happy (despite the pressures of performance) and it's a film that makes us incredibly happy as well.

Following Ferrara and his musical pals Paul Hipp and Joe Delia (both creative partners for the past 30 plus years in either acting roles or compositional crew) as they perform a number of shows across France, "Alive In France" doesn't boast much more story than that. The film shows us the boyish interaction between the trio, introduces their wives (Cristina Chiriac) and Ferrara's child into the mix (whose becoming quite the mainstay in recent Ferrara films) and observes as they bounce from Toulousse to Paris playing for receptive- and not so receptive- audiences. Of course, the audiences come because its Abel Ferrara, hounding him for autographs on "Bad Lieutenant" posters and wanting to take a "serious" picture with him. But beneath his demure attitude- Ferrara is always accommodating even if he appears about to blow his top- the film is most productive in revealing the hound dog attitude he puts into playing in a band. Every street encounter results in him handing out a flyer for his upcoming gig. Every radio interview ends up with his questioning their legitimacy in really advertising. And an impromptu stop at a local film school has most of the students brushing him off, in which the camera captures an impressively ironic moment as Ferrara walks away, not in anger but in reflective reverie identifying with them when he was a brash student.

And then there's the music. Much of the film lingers on the band's sweaty style of Rolling Stones-knock offs. And even if Ferrara is probably the weakest member of the group, "Alive In France" glides along with Hipp's rendition of his music from Ferrara's "China Girl" (1987) and the vibes of Delia's soundtrack contributions. Though their shows are interspersed with clips from Ferrara's films (in case anyone forgets who he is), the documentary is alive with their creation. Whether it's visual or sonic, doesn't matter. It makes us realize that artistry is what gives Ferrara breath.... no matter where he resides.