Even though movie theaters are closed during this pandemic there are other ways to see films, such as via Netflix and many streaming options. For those who would like to see first-run films which would be in theaters now, Albuquerque’s own independent Guild Cinema is offering a home viewing option through Kino Now.
You can find a wide list of films at http://www.GuildCinema.com, and a portion of the screening fee goes to support the Guild. Unless otherwise noted, all films reviewed here are available at that link. This is a time to support each other and local businesses (including newspapers), if you can!
Tommaso HHHHH Written and directed by Abel Ferrera. Starring Willem Dafoe and Cristina Chiriac. Plugs: None. Available at GuildCinema.com for a limited time. In his new film Tommaso, writer/director Abel Ferrera follows the titular fellow (Willem Dafoe), a man in his sixties who moved from New York to Rome. He’s living with his wife, Nikki, and young daughter while struggling with insecurity, personal demons and (apparently) trying to write a screenplay.
The film shifts seamlessly between reality and dream sequences, which is both a strength and a weakness. The audience is left off-kilter and it’s clear that Tommaso is (or may be) an unreliable narrator —both to us directly (in spots of voiceover) and to others he meets (he says, for example, that his child has no bed of her own, yet soon we see that’s false).
The film alternates between a handful of settings, all of which are about as plausible or implausible as the last. He’s in a room with his Italian-language tutor, then he’s home doing yoga in his underwear. He flirts with women half his age who have daddy issues, then complains that his wife is emotionally distant.
There are clips of Tommaso’s stories on film storyboards —but Tommaso isn’t described by anyone as a filmmaker. Writer and director Abel Ferrera is, of course, and the character is a thinly veiled version of himself (in fact Tommaso’s wife and child are played by Ferrara’s real-life wife and child). It’s a quirky conceit, but one that doesn’t fully pay off. Those aware of Ferrera’s biography and filmography (Driller Killer, Bad Lieutenant, etc.) will find parallels and running themes (emotional turmoil, redemption, etc.), but a film needs to stand on its own merits.
Writers, of course, bend both fact and fiction to suit their dramatic needs. But with no recourse to some version of external truth, some third-party objective observer to anchor the story and reality-test Tommaso, we’re not sure what to think, and for all we know the whole thing is a dream, a fiction-within-a-fiction. This robs the story of dramatic tension because the stakes are never really explained.
Tommaso’s going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and then he’s (apparently) teaching dance or acting lessons (despite having no apparent expertise in the field). What are we to make of this? Are these erotically-charged scenes fantasies? Reality? Or some mix of the two?
Either would be fine, but Ferrera never really bothers to signpost, making it a frustrating experience. The is-it-real-or-hallucination theme can be quite effective (such as in Memento, The Usual Suspects, and Jacob’s Ladder for example) but typically more is at stake for the character.
Are the stories he shares at AA true? Is he even a writer? (Tommaso is ostensibly a struggling screenwriter but spends very little time writing —or even trying to.) At some point I stopped trying to figure it out, since Ferrera seemed to have little interest in revealing the answer. And that’s fine: you can abandon a plot and still be swept away in a film’s visuals or stellar acting. But despite Dafoe’s strong performance, Tommaso struggles to engage.
The film is technically well shot; Ferrera ably plays with light and shadows to represent Tommaso’s state of mind, making sure that his shadows are always nearby and that we see them even if he doesn’t.
The Rome night streets offer a comforting warm yellow sheen, though street lights, car lights, and others are glaring and often have faint lens flare, denying clarity in the light. The final shot is of a grim, crucified Tommaso staring into the camera with an accusatory glare, as if challenging the viewer and asking “What did you expect?” (or, to borrow from another film, “Are you not entertained?”). Ferrera has always been a demanding filmmaker, but Tommaso asks a bit much from its audiences.