MPAA Rating: Not Yet Rated
Director: Abel Ferrara
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Cristina Chiriac
Runtime: 1 hr 55 mins
What It Is: Tommaso (Dafoe) is a writer and filmmaker who is stationed in Italy with his much younger, beautiful wife (Chiriac) and daughter. Tommaso spends his days running errands, working on his new story, teaching acting, and reminiscing on his past of recklessness, and addiction. When he finds his wife is being less than truthful to him, Tommaso tries working things out and finding some sort of validation and inner peace.
What We Think: “A meditation” to be sure. I’m generally a fan of Ferrara’s. I thought Bad Lieutenant was fine and Ms. 45 absolutely brilliant (in fact, go see it as soon as possible so long as you are able to take in graphic sexual and violent subject matter, it is an incredible movie). What the major difference between those works and this feels like the overall lack of influence from the late powerhouse actress, writer, and star of Ms. 45, Zoey Tamerlis, though that could very well just be a simple presumption out of observation, I can’t speak on how his works differentiate between centuries (as I have yet not seen his other Dafoe collaboration, Pasolini). Tommaso also definitely strikes differently in the subject matter. Instead of having the overt sense of aggression and the putrid, twisted humanity that comes along with Ferrara’s constant thesis, the film approaches the life, conflict, and ego of its protagonist with quite a contrast. The protagonist struggles to find restitution within himself and is consequently challenged for it. We see this character constantly spending time with his daughter and family, making friends with strangers, being likable and friendly, visiting parks, sightseeing, getting groceries, learning more about the culture and language of the country, being open about his mental health, and attending AA meetings. Yet there is a very subtle, very slow-building tension that builds behind the wall of positive intention seemingly rooted in the resistance born from hurtful and tumultuous experiences. In the end, Tommaso is jaded; the idea that the audience comes to terms with that while he does not makes for an interesting, Hitchcockian conflict. It can certainly take you off-guard: in one place it’s a lovely exploration of country and culture hosted by a monologuing Dafoe and in the next place you’re reminded that it was indeed Ferrera, a director notable for his use of ultraviolence, who directed the film. Ultimately it sort of felt like the concept, while not lost on me, was presented in such a way that I find a lot of established alternative or arthouse directors corner themselves into; the uncanny valley of directing, the indulgence and either incredible subtlety or otherwise complete lack thereof that they are allowed to indulge themselves in. The story for me personally isn’t particularly resounding as we watch a man’s ego unleash in pieces, question the reliability of the narrator, and experience more and more scenes of dream-like affairs that make less sense despite the obvious point they make. It does have a lot of similarities to Bad Lieutenant in that respect.
Our Grade: C, While at first Tommaso was quick to invite me into his world with gorgeous and searching wide-angle photography, naturalistic performances, breathable settings, and notable pseudo-documentary-esque visual language that is a Ferrera characteristic, the film was sort of lost on me, especially in the last act. Not that the themes or messages were lost, but in a way, the subject matter and story elements all felt familiar. It is an interesting insight into what can be taken as some level of admittance on the part of the filmmaker (as well as possibly the lead actor himself) as well as Ferrera’s next film which seems to be some sort of strange, intriguing tie-in with this film as the project Tommaso himself was working on within the story (the upcoming release will be called Siberia–I do my research). Carrying traces of works like Russian Ark or Love, this work delivers its message about ego, marriage, sex, and fatherhood, though strangely… if anything, most certainly expect a poster boy for lesser-relatable arthouse films making the stretch into “shock imagery” and twists… honestly I feel like I’ve seen much of it before in ways that do not make me nostalgic. Perhaps if this slow-paced drama had stayed grounded consistently, I would have had more of an impact from it.