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With Zeros and Ones, in some way, Abel Ferrara brings us back to his 1990s cult movies, especially the livid and nihilist The Addiction, starring Lili Taylor and Christopher Walken. If in that masterpiece the author used the area around Washington Square Park (New York) to build a specific microcosm for his vampire-movie, in Zeros and Ones he sets this desperate dystopian drama in Rome’s Esquilino: the result is an inner coherence which develops with every scene that sense of claustrophobia which embraces bodies, souls and desolates streets.
Taking advantage of the great work by the cinematographer Sean Price Williams, Ferrara composes a puzzling, visual journey that mixes the realism of the settings with his pessimistic gaze. Ferrara keeps working on his unique vision, capable of bringing a sense of oppression and unavoidable loss to the movie’s images. If the interiors are tight and suffocating, the outdoor spaces of a deserted city are what truly make Zeros and Ones a stunning film: Ferrara shows in the most possible apocalyptic way – and yet still elegant, stylized – what we’ve been through in the last year and a half because of the pandemic.
Zeros and Ones uses the genre to talk about how our society has changed, better adapted to an emergency that forced people into solitude, disconnection, and the struggle to feel part of society: those that Abel Ferrara, in different ways and through different tones, already faced in so many of his unforgettable works. In this sense, Zeros and Ones’ main character is the “son” of Bad Lieutenant’s Harvey Keitel, another 1990s masterpiece by the filmmaker. The author also finds an impressive connection with his protagonist Ethan Hawke, who explores with equal depth both the charisma of his character and his dark sides. Zeros and Ones is by far one of the best movies directed by Abel Ferrara in the last decade, and at the same time one of his most personal: like The Addiction, this is a movie about the impulse to destroy yourself in order to rise back as a new entity. Something Abel Ferrara keeps experiencing as a man and an artist.