Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Tue Jun 02, 2020 10:13 am 
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WILLEM DAFOE IN TOMMASO

Himself perceived

As Owen Gleiberman notes in his Variety review of Tommaso, at 67 Abel Ferrara is still the "poster boy" for a "bohemian shaggy-dog school" of filmmaking that (as he adds, somewhat unnecessarily) is "without discipline." Material, usually on a slim budget, is thrown down somewhat randomly. Individual scenes give every appearance of having been made up on the spur of the moment. Moral and mental breakdown is often Ferrara's subject. This time the focus seems to shift to the difficulty of living sober. Turning directly autobiographical, Ferrara depicts the relatively comfortable problems of a leisurely life in Rome in a posh apartment with a beautiful, much younger wife and a cute three-year-old daughter after getting clean from drugs and alcohol but not taming his rage as the marriage seems to unravel.

What was appealing about Ferrara's direct-to-internet 2014 film Welcome to New York, which starred a well-cast Gérard Depardieu in a reenactment of the Dominique Stauss-Kahn scandal, was the way it simply reproduced the events and their locations with precision, and in chronological order. The focus is vaguer in Tommaso, though unities of time and place generally seem to be observed. It features Willem Dafoe again, who played in the director's Pasolini. The latter was an assemblage or brief events, the last in the writer and filmmaker's life, but not in a very orderly fashion.

Tommaso is a shoestring effort, economizing by being not only set in Ferrara's own Rome apartment but using his exotic looking Romanian wife Cristina Chiriac as Tommaso's spouse Nikki and his, and Chiriac's, young daughter Anna Ferrara as Tommaso's daughter DeeDee. There are no other name characters, only neighbors, barmen, mothers in the park, or the like.

We follow Tommaso around as he goes through his typical days. He has Italian lessons, teaches movement classes for actors, takes DeeDee to the park and for a strawberry gelato, goes to AA meetings (presented at length, not very interestingly), practices yoga and ponders scenes for a screenplay set in the far north and involving Inuit people and a bear. He even changes a light bulb, a frustrating experience: it's the lamp itself that's broken. He also is jealous, and gets hurt and angry easily at Nikki for apparently neglecting him. He's furious when she prepares dinner for herself and DeeDee without thinking to include him, and for walking on ahead when he nips into a bar for a quick coffee. A conversation between Tommaso and a fellow recovering addict suggests that while the child has come decisively between him and his wife, the underlying issue is that he's full of unexpressed rage that seizes any pretext; nothing makes him angrier than the broken lamp.

Tommaso's difficult time is caused by his being what in AA they call a "dry drunk." That is, he has quit drinking, and in his case also using heroin and crack cocaine, but hasn't yet sufficiently dealt with the emotional baggage those substances were being used to repress. The occasional meeting and daily yoga sessions aren't enough. Unfortunately, this is not early recovery, either: Tommaso (like the filmmaker) has been clean and sober for over six years. He obviously has not been doing the work he needs to do to learn to cope with what in AA they call "life on life's terms." This version of Ferrara, one may add, isn't as productive as the director himself is. Tommaso's daily work on the screenplay just looks like tinkering.

As the film unfolds, Tommaso's rages get worse. The action is interspersed with surreal passages. Several times the protagonist is served in a bar by a naked woman, one of whom he makes out with. (Presumably it's a dream, unless Rome bars have become livelier than formerly.) On another occasion he is mysteriously arrested, handcuffed and brought to a man for questioning. In a symbolic sequence, he spits out his heart and offers it to a circle of African men sitting around a fire . Later, in what seems like real time, he goes out to confront a loud, drunken man but the altercation quickly segues into a friendly chat. After a second movement class he hears a young woman tell about her estrangement from her father, and then he kisses and fondles her. It's an icky moment at best. But other scenes, like a trip on the Metropolitana, the Rome subway, to surprise his wife and DeeDee at the Borghese Gardens, are low-keyed and quotidian.

The sequence of scenes seems haphazard at best. Trimming them down might bring the film closer to the kind of rigorous order and psychological intensity one finds in the work of masters of emotional and mental meltdown like Ingmar Bergman.

Willem Dafoe is always interesting to watch at work. The action is fresh and personal; as Gleiberman says, it "feels alive" (certainly preferable to feeling dead). The settings are beautiful, not only the spacious Roman apartment on the Piazza Vittoria, but above all the streets of Rome, which are often seen in the evening, tinged with orange light. Tommaso goes on far too long. And yet, fans of Abel Ferrara and of Willem Dafoe may not want to miss it.

Tommaso, 155 mins., debuted at Cannes May 2019 at a special screening. It showed at seven other international festivals. Distributed by Kino Marquee, it opens in virtual cinemas on the internet starting Fri. June 5, 2020 linked in New York with Film at Lincoln Center, Los Angeles with Laemmle, Acropolis Cinema & Lumiere Cinema and others, which the pay-for-view renter chooses. Metascore 57%.

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©Chris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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