R Xmas review

:. Director: Abel Ferrara
:. Starring: Drea De De Matteo, Lillo Brancato
:. Running Time: 1:23
:. Year: 2001
:. Country: USA

In R Xmas, a corrupt Christmas tale in which bare narrative and settings flirt with a documentary, Abel Ferrara focuses on an unholy trinity, a wealthy and good-looking family living off of a lucrative drug-dealing business. While the nanny takes care of the daughter, the couple (played by Drea De Matteo and Lillo Brancato of the Sopranos' fame) cuts the powder and distributes it to the dealers. But when the husband is kidnapped by a mysterious man (Ice-T), the wife has no other choice than going alone to the streets to gather enough money for the ransom.

R Xmas is a work of rare purity, an anti-thriller in the sense that it doesn't follow any screenwriting rules, ignores twists and climaxes of the ransom genre and instead focuses on real life with a docu-drama approach. The long and meticulous scene where husband and wife cut the heroin sets up the realistic tone of the movie. Ferrara isn't interested in the plot but rather in life mechanisms. When the wife is looking for money, suspense is eluded to focus on the portrait of a strong and beautiful woman who must rise to the occasion. His knowledge of this world—as a drug-addict—emphasizes the truthfulness of this work while, just as in life, not every crime is solved in a profusion of shootings and explosions.

Despite the basic approach, R Xmas is above all a symbolic piece, where Ferrara deals with what he knows best: his demons and his city set against a religious background.

Heathen meets the sacred in R Xmas as sins will get a chance to be washed away, in a true Christmas tradition. The husband, wife and child form an unholy trinity. The parents live a sinful life and Christmas will give them a chance of redemption. Jesus, who was born on December 25th and died for the sins of man, is resurrected here in Ice-T's character, a corrupt cop who shuts down criminal organizations on his personal time while giving people the chance to change by letting them go. Like Christ, he will end up being caught. With his usual taste for provocation, the director uses a character referring to the latest police corruption events to incarnate a sacred figure. Redemption and visions of Jesus are recurrent themes in Ferrara's cinema, as Bad Lieutenant attests. The filmmaker builds his film on the contrast of purity and sins. The scene where the couple prepares the doses of drugs for the dealers is shown in parallel with the scenes of the daughter—the only innocent member of the family—at home. Also when the wife is driving down the streets looking for money, she is constantly being observed in the rear-view mirror by the big-size doll she bought for her daughter (another reminder of her sinful activities through an object of innocence associated with the little girl.)

Drugs are of course evil in the film, and Ferrara reflects his problems with his own demons. R Xmas is set in a corrupt, pre-Giuliani New York. The director points at the politicians as being responsible for the decadence of his city. By choosing a good-looking and smart family involved in the drug traffic, he shows how humans are sometime victims of their environment. He doesn't excuse them, however, as he acknowledges that they are responsible for their own choices. Thus, the ending remains ambiguous, as the couple must decide if they're staying in the drug business. Does the couple learn from their mistake? Does man? This is uncertain.

  Fred Thom

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