'Tommaso': Film Review | Cannes 2019
Willem Dafoe stars in Abel Ferrara's latest, an autobiographical drama about a director and recovering addict living in Rome.
Willem Dafoe brings a pulsing gusto to Abel Ferrara’s sober, overlong, sporadically engaging self-portrait of his life in Rome, Tommaso. In his fifth collaboration with the iconoclastic, sometime bad-boy director, the actor creates a dimensional and evolving characterization of a filmmaker who’s significantly cleaned up his act in his 60s, has a very young wife and a 3-year-old daughter but still has to do combat with his dark side. Theatrically, the pic has very little potential but should, especially if trimmed, find a niche on home screens.
For a director whose last three ventures have been homemade docs and who hasn’t had a feature that’s caused any particular stir since sometime in the 1990s, Ferrara has still managed to keep cranking out film after film. A bit more discipline would have helped this one, which struggles to hold viewer interest across two full hours but would likely register more strongly with 15-20 minutes removed.
What you do get is a vivid picture of one iconoclastic American filmmaker’s self-imposed life of exile abroad. The apartment Tommaso (Dafoe) shares with his European wife Nikki (Cristina Chiriac) and little girl Dee Dee (Anna Ferrara) is in a very nice part of town but lacks much in the way of furnishings and other comforts. The early scenes paint Tommaso, who speaks quite decent Italian, in a flattering light, as he does the shopping, cooks dinner and, after the kid’s gone to bed, initiates a lovemaking session that’s interrupted by the little one at just the wrong moment.
An admitted heroin and crack addict, Tomasso has been off the stuff for six years but still maintains a regimen of extreme yoga, takes conversational Italian, runs a regular workshop for recovering addicts and is the kind of guy who’s willing to intervene and calm down a belligerent drunk on the street. He’s quite occupied and seems pretty content, but where does he squeeze in sufficient time for work?
The problem is that, unlike Ferrara himself, Tommaso doesn’t. Being productive doesn’t seem to be a problem for Ferrara, yet he makes his fictional surrogate someone who seems to never get around to sitting down and hammering out some work. This is odd in what otherwise seems to be an undisguised self-portrait.
What’s also curious is that, for unexplained reasons, his wife suddenly becomes cold, then turns hostile toward him. The possibility of a dalliance for Tommaso presents itself, there are threatening incidents on the street that rate as rote melodrama and a gun materializes.
Then, at a climactic moment, Tommaso ends up on a cross, which initially summons memories of Dafoe in The Last Temptation of Christ but then arouses skepticism and downright incredulity that Ferrara would go down this road. Ferrara would be well advised to keep it real instead of indulging in this sort of simplistic Catholic symbolism.
Although the main character and subject matter will be of limited interest to most audiences, Ferrara would serve himself, and particularly Dafoe, well by trimming the most outlandish and repetitive aspects of the film; the multiple old addicts’ sessions pay particularly diminished returns.
Fortunately, Dafoe is almost always center-screen, and he’s always good to watch here. With this and the Directors’ Fortnight hit The Lighthouse, the actor has had an excellent Cannes.
Production companies: Faliro House, Similar(r), Vivo Film SRL, Washington Square Films
With: Willem Dafoe, Anna Ferrara, Cristina Chiriac
Director-screenwriter: Abel Ferrara
Producers: Christos V. Konstantakopoulos, Laura Buffoni, Michael Weber, Simone Gattoni
Executive producer: Josh Blum
Director of photography: Peter Zeitlinger
Editor: Fabio Nunziata
Production designer: Tommaso Ortino
Music: Joe Delia
Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Special Screening)