Thursday, June 4, 2020

Movie with Abe: Tommaso

Directed by Abel Ferrera
Released June 5, 2020

A strong protagonist is key to any good film. It’s very possible that the person at the center of a story is more interesting than the events that surround them. Supporting players can steal scenes and even stand out enough to earn sequels or other future spotlights, which are sometimes set in new places and may feature limited references to the original project. A worthwhile character, however, isn’t necessarily enough to sustain a film, particularly if whatever transformation they go through isn’t matched by an equally compelling narrative shaped around them.

Tommaso (Willem Dafoe) is an eccentric American filmmaker living in Rome with his younger wife, Nikki (Cristina Chiriac), and their three-year-old daughter Deedee (Anna Ferrara). Tommaso splits his time between experimenting with other artists and attending addiction support groups, where he has an audience he can regale with lavish tales of his past escapades and unrealized ideas. Alcohol and drugs are not Tommaso’s only vices, as he frequently lashes out in bouts of extreme anger, contrasted by his gentler interactions with his Italian teacher and tender moments with his daughter. The line between what’s in his head and what he’s actually experiencing is blurred as one surreal interaction leads into the next.

This film is an intimate affair for writer-director Abel Ferrara, known for films from the 1990s like “Bad Lieutenant” and “The Funeral.” Similar to Federico Fellini and “8 ½,” Bob Fosse and “All That Jazz,” and Pedro Almodovar and “Pain and Glory,” Ferrera crafts a loosely autobiographical film with his first narrative feature since 2014’s “Pasolini,” also starring his frequent collaborator Dafoe. His real-life wife Chiriac and their daughter Anna play the two people closest to Tommaso, injecting even more familiar authenticity into this character study, one that investigates what truly defines this wild and passionate auteur.

Dafoe is a formidable performer, one who has impressed recently with superb performances each of the past few years in “The Florida Project,” “At Eternity’s Gate,” and “The Lighthouse.” As with his portrayal of Vincent Van Gogh in Julian Schnabel’s seemingly aimless portrait of the artist, Dafoe latches on to what’s most vivid and fascinating about Tommaso in a film that can’t seem to figure that out. Its uncertain timeline is less problematic than its lack of concern with picking an involving trajectory. Though its closing scene conjures up memories of “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” the taste this film leaves most strongly is one reminiscent of the less grounded elements of “The Great Beauty,” grasping at greatness but settling instead for a fading impression of brilliance.


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