“It’s a one-set film and you’re going to live and die in the place you are,” says Abel Ferrera about his latest film, “4:44 Last Day on Earth.” Speaking to a Film Society at Lincoln Center audience last week, Ferrara discussed why he chose to confront the end of the world inside a New York apartment on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
Ferrara wanted to focus on the apocalypse through a couple, saying the story is how he imagines the ultimate end. “I guess if you have a lover, you’d be close to him or her,” he says. “It’s about who you talk to and who you don’t want to talk to.”
The lovers are Cisco, played by Willem Dafoe (who starred in Ferrara’s “Go Go Tales” and “New Rose Hotel”) and Skey, portrayed by the filmmaker’s own longtime companion, Shanyn Leigh (“Public Enemies”). Throughout the apocalypse Skey continues to create art, with Cisco occasionally interrupting her for a sexual dalliance, as the media references the earth’s fate via television and computer monitors littered through their Manhattan abode. “4:44” rarely ventures outside the immediate surroundings of the apartment, though Skype conversations and television shows featuring the Dalai Lama and a proselytizing Yogi permeate their enclosure.
In his final moments on air, NY1 morning news anchor Pat Kiernan (who portrays himself) sasy everyone’s fate is known and there’s no point in continuing to cover the events minute by minute. “Most of the staff have left to return to be with their loved ones,” he says. Everyone seems to be turning inward.
“I didn’t want to do any shots outside this apartment, [though] I did do a few,” Ferrera said. The film is screening in the upcoming New York Film Festival, which opens Friday. but said the production settled on the L.E.S. dwelling owned by an artist, like one of his two leads.
While man-made disaster is the primary preoccupation of “4:44,” Ferrara said, “This film is largely about sobriety and the characters are developed [through this].” Indeed, drugs and alcohol are central to the couple and the few people they encounter before the end. Cisco temporarily leaves his home to venture to a neighboring apartment where one guys snorts what appears to be cocaine, while a woman across the table drinks booze and slurs, “I just want to get laid, you know?” To Cisco’s right is a man who says he wants to stay sober — to experience fate and what “comes next clearly.”
But back to the end of the world. When Ferrara was asked about the other doomsday story screening at this year’s NYFF, Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia,” he could only speculate on the theme’s source. “These films… Where they come from, God only knows. I can only follow my imagination, but it goes to show these ideas are out there. The zeitgeist is there.”