Director: Abel Ferrara
Stars: Zoë Tamerlis, Albert Sinkys, Darlene Stuto
Running time: 80 minutes
In the time it takes you to make your commute from Midtown Manhattan to home, say 45 minutes—the local train got skipped by an express and held you up—a woman is raped twice, and kills once. Her name is Thana. She's mute and works as a seamstress. After what you can only assume is the worst day of her life, she takes to carrying a pistol in her purse. She's prepared to use it. It's all over her face.
Abel Ferrara's Ms. 45, like so many movie classics, is the story of a face. Zoë Tamerlis plays Thana, and without her we wouldn't be here celebrating an exploitation picture from 1981, remastered and re-released today (in a limited theatrical run) by Drafthouse Films. Just 19 when Ms. 45 was made, Tamerlis is the mesmerizing force powering the film. You've never seen a face like hers. Her eyes tell the tale, flashing with pain during the rape scenes. Later, they become steeled over—sometimes confident, sometimes bored—as she shoots and kills a cross-section of New York men.
What's most impressive about Ferrara's film in 2013 is how restrained it feels. The rape scenes are long and hard to watch, but the camera mainly focuses on Tamerlis' face. It doesn't crawl over her body; there's no nudity.
In fact, the film repeatedly puts the viewer in the perspective of a harassed or abused woman. Early on in the movie, the camera slips into Thana's POV as she is hollered at while leaving work. The sidewalks are lined with lecherous men, and Ferrara puts the viewer in the place of the harassed woman. Later, the camera takes up the POV of a sex worker as she's attacked by her pimp. Then Thana cuts him down like the angel of death she's become. Dressed in a cape and wearing lipstick for the first time, Thana's come into her own as a killer of terrible men. It's awesome to behold.
By the film's end, Thana's been so thoroughly made mad by misogyny and everyday sexism that she starts killing men indiscriminately. It culminates in an incredible Halloween party sequence full of wonky slow-motion and a sleazy-funky jazz score that sounds like sweat and sex. And the thing is, you're with her right up until the end. Because of Tamerlis' performance, because maybe she isn't so crazy after all, you ride and die with Thana.
Ms. 45 is a nightmare born of old New York, but it's a movie for right now.
Written by Ross Scarano (@RossScarano)
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