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With: Ethan Hawke, Valerio Mastandrea, Babak Karimi, Cristina Chiriac, Salvatore Ruocco, Anna Ferrara
Written by: Abel Ferrara
Directed by: Abel Ferrara
MPAA Rating: R for language, some violence, bloody images, sexual material and drug content
Running Time: 85
Date: 11/19/2021

Zeros and Ones (2021)

3 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Director Abel Ferrara goes even more deeply into uncommercial experimental mode with Zeros and Ones, delivering an opaque, baffling movie with hardly any plot, but with a series of nervy ideas and undeniable sensations.

A soldier, JJ (Ethan Hawke) is sent to Rome during the COVID-19 pandemic to discover the whereabouts of his revolutionary brother (also Hawke), who may know something about a potential bombing of the Vatican. JJ learns from his sister-in-law Valeria (Valeria Correale) that his brother may be dead, or in prison, or both. So he begins searching the Roman underworld for clues, encountering all kinds of strange types and existential dread. Can JJ prevent the attack?

If Ferrara's Tommaso and Siberia appealed mainly to the cult director's die-hard fans, then Zeros and Ones makes them both look positively mainstream, like multiplex popcorn-munchers. This one recalls Jean-Luc Godard's arty, post-New Wave work, or Terrence Malick's more polarizing offerings, wandering from one unexpected moment to something else that feels totally disconnected, and with various thoughts like "a hard road leads to a real life" expressed seemingly at random.

The pandemic, and images of hand-washing and masks, are among the most familiar things in the movie, providing something of an anchor, but also indicating more uncertainty. Hawke is the only other familiar thing here. The movie opens with a video of him introducing the movie, and ends with another video of him trying to make sense of what we've just seen. He closes with "yes, this is part of the film."

Even the title,Zeros and Ones is unclear, unless it refers to the digital format in which the movie was made. Yet, whatever Ferrara is trying to say here, whether it's about conflict or acts of violence or something else, it's told by a veteran filmmaker that has lost none of his fire. It's a tough, tricky movie that is worth unpacking.

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