The Funeral - Rated: SIMMERING

Abel Ferrara has a dark imagination. The director of The Funeral, Bad Lieutenant and Body Snatchers also has a reputation as a misogynist. But in The Funeral, it is only the dark imagination that is on show.

I saw this film in the same week as I saw The Godfather in revival. It is a great companion-piece. The family Ferrara portrays in The Funeral is a small-scale criminal organisation, operating at an earlier time, in the 30s, but similar themes are explored. The role of the family, food and religion are again intertwined, and the role of the women is brought to the fore for part of the time (unlike in The Godfather, where the women are rather two-dimensional). But the themes of destiny, religion and conscience are the main ideas this film explores, and it does so in a mature and thoughtful way, which keeps you on your toes throughout the movie, and leaves you reflecting long afterwards.

The film is beautifully art-directed, and there are some terrific actors doing some very good work here. Chris Penn is given plenty of latitude and does put on a star turn, especially when singing the blues. Christopher Walken is perfectly cast as the older brother and head of the family who knows what it is to take on the family trade. His dead eyes tell the story. Clearly Ferrara works well with his actors - Isabella Rossellini is good and Annabella Sciorra is excellent. But I found the direction itself a little wanting. There is not much on offer in terms of framing or camera movement - Ferrara keeps pretty much to medium shots and extreme closeup. Perhaps Ferrara is one of the school of directors who avoid flashy camerawork. His timing was a little off, too. At times the film drags, and you become impatient, and then - boom! something very nasty happens.

But it is a film of great ideas and an intellectual challenge, and for that I am always grateful.