‘R Xmas – an Abel Ferrara holiday movie on Amazon Prime

Ice-T and Drea Matteo in the film by Abel Ferrara

Inspired by a supposedly true story by Cassandra De Jesus, this low-key drama is prime Abel Ferrara territory: a New York tale rumbling with irony and ambiguity.

Doting Manhattan parents Drea Matteo and Lillo Brancato Jr. (both veterans of The Sopranos) keep their upper-class lifestyle together—private school for the kids, BMW for the parents, classy zip code for them all—by selling heroine, but it’s all about to come apart this merry Christmas. Between wrapping presents for the kids and bagging powder for the customers, Brancato is kidnapped and Matteo careens around grabbing all the money she can for the ransom.

It played Cannes in 2000 but never found an American distributor and eventually surfaced as a direct-to-disc release. Which is a shame. Believe it or not, this is a tale of a loving couple that pulls together in their times of trouble, whose code of respect and responsibility is in sharp contrast to the ripples of warring dealers and corrupt cops around them. With little violence and none of Ferrara’s more flamboyant excesses on display, studios were apparently stymied on how to market the film.

I’ll this for it: it makes for a very unconventional Christmas movie. Co-stars Ice-T and Victor Argo.

Rated R.

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‘R Xmas [DVD]

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The DVD from Lionsgate features commentary by director Abel Ferrara.


Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.