IR Film Review: TOMMASO [Kino Lorber]

Abel Ferrara has always been an interesting amalgamation of sources. Back during film school at NYU in the mid 90s, Ferrara and Nick Gomez were the bad boys on cinema. I remember crossing paths with him and his actors various times at film school, with the TV station, at the Washington Square News covering a film or on the streets of the Lower East Side. The Addiction with Lili Taylor shot on NYU’s campus. Some of us at film school went out to set when a scene from The Funeral was shot in Brooklyn with Chris Walken. A van was set on fire to film while we drank Goldschlager watching filmmaking happen from afar as Manhattan loomed in the distance. Ferrara was New York grunge guerrilla film-making. Like Darren Aronofksy who was just coming up with “Pi”, Ferrara had a view of the world but also lived the life to point. At a certain point though, it became completely enveloped in drugs. Some people can’t emerge from that. For some, it creates a tunnel of creativity. Dennis Hopper had that ability. It is just a matter of living through it. Ferrara quieted down for a couple years and his story sort of fell off the radar. That is why seeing it re-ermege in a way in a new series of films starting with “Tommaso” starring recent collaborator Willem Dafoe is an interesting one.

This is effective since both of them now live in Italy married to Italian women younger than them. it is an interesting progression that truly reflects in the film which very autobiographical in certain ways and yet a reflection of themes that have always fascinated Ferrara. He was always King of the long takes with religious imagery. Many times they would be hard to watch and take on a grotesque form of imagery that simply was being extreme for that sake. Ferrara’s films were always gritty as if you were there in the alley with him, low budget, and yet once in a while (there is a scene in this movie) where he sues religious music and a gliding camera to almost highlight performance art. And the one show here is inherent and specific to Dafoe’s filmic career. You can tell it is real people watching when he films. it is about blurring that line between reality and fiction. This is where the story lies as well.

Willem plays a version of Ferrara with a young wife and a young daughter in Rome. The irony is that the wife and daughter are played by Abel’s actual wife Christine and their daughter Anna plus it is shot in their apartment for the most part. It shows the psychosis of life, temptation and desire with tinges of jealousy. It hits remarkably close and yet separate. There are the tendencies and yet his wife would have read the script. Willem plays introspective but yet loses it at times before compassion returns and then flares up again. There is a bipolar tendency but you can see the destructiveness Dafoe sees this in Ferrara’s work and how he can connect.

Even at one point, Dafoe is practicing a specific kind of yoga which he does in real life and yet right after the Buddhism which is internal and inherent to Ferrara currently creeps in on it. It is fascinating in many ways but also requires attention. The end is thematic overall and perhaps expected and yet the epilogue in terms of its realness shows the director in a different place. The reflection also in placing stories of his next film within this film is brilliant considering Dafoe is in that film as well (“Siberia”). “Tommasso” is an interesting examination of a director in a different world. It is like Godard in reverse but one which is now it his home. It is a fascinating if not maddening diatribe at times examining the normality of life and how your brain and lifestyle can adjust.


By Tim Wassberg

Cruising The Coast: The 2009 Newport Beach Film Festival


The essence of the Newport Beach Film Festival ranges within its geography which comes together. Established within the Fashion Island complex right on the coast, the highlight of the operation becomes perception. While the upshot becomes a highly attended, locally supported product, there is a lack of connectibility in terms of the filmmakers. However there is a touted independent spirit which when combined with the interactive nature of the foreign film spotlights comes off as wonderfully programmed. The lack of celebrity infusion creates a more local experience but the energy, while elusive, still points to success.

Shorts Love seems to be an inherent background for the essence of the programming with different ideals being explored. In the subsection of “Another Love Story”, “Split Hands”, despite a scitzophrenic narrative fares the best dramatically while “Picture Day” and “Jimmy’s Cafe” with their elements of disconnection within mundane progression come off a little too stilted.  The subsection of “Complicated Love” fares a little better because of the more eccentric nature of the subject matter. “The Tab” has highlights in its mockumentary style of comedy but stumbles at the end while “Rope” maintains its wistfulness due to the utter committment of the lead actress. She makes the connection to the bonding mechanism real. “Kate Wakes”, bouyed by a understated performance from Adam Goldberg, tries to be sweet but comes off slightly frayed. “Worst Date Ever” by comparison just seems to want to ingratiate the reaction factor. The next subsection entitled “Love Is Strange” ends the factor with the best witnessed short in the form of the simple and effective “My Four Inch Precious” from Florida State’s film school while “Tea & Remembrance” shows glimpses of greatness but a lack of throughline.


Monster From The Id The quite effective documentary seems almost out of place on the festival scene since its breakdown of philosophy, psychology and hopefulness would be quite effective on History or A&E. That said it balances the essence of what 50s sci-fi movies intrinisically created in the public consciousness and how that alternately provoked an essence of history. There is a “what if” mentality that reaches and speaks into the 21st Century and is perfectly timely. The doc talks of movies seeing scientists formerly as heroes and its integration with the way the youth viewed the world which is now replaced by movie stars. The perception is quite adept despite the lack of intrinsic detail but it becomes more broad in the later breakdown. Still the theory and its presentation of the future of space travel is generally hopeful.


Suspect X – Japanese Spotlight This battle of the minds integrating the mind chess in the cover up of a murder lacks overall logic despite its basis on that fact. However because of the duel-like tat between the two leads, the tension is kept maintained but reflects more like an Asian version of “Law & Order”. Its strength is within its details as specific wordplay and placement of clues works well but not overwhelmingly slow. At the end, there is not revelation and the heartbreak tends to shortchanged the narrative despite some flourished acting. The after party at Kimera shined with a shadowy reflection that while inherently Asian hined at fusion. Crab stuff sushi rolls balanced the Karl Strauss Amber Ale as the wraparound bar slithered the snakelike U formation which kept privacy but lacked a flow.


Seraphine – French Spotlight The essence of what defines “artist” takes on a paradox in this film. With a fine standout role in the lead role by Yolande Moreau, the essence of stripped down performance becomes almost lethal. Within the visage of this cleaning lady/painter on the cusp of war, the narrative lacks sentimentality instead opting for a practical if not lucid basis on which to show this woman dealing with life. Her mindset floats between basic motor elements and a deeper understanding of truth. As the narrative explores more depth than would be expected, the essence of misperceived greatness and loss is revealed in subtle key changes that make you feel for this woman. The afterparty at French 75 Bistro had a definite Moulin Rouge style to it with the bar area buzzing with interaction despite a lack of roaming french tastes.


Il Divo – Italian Spotlight This ode to “Scarface” in a reverse fashion has a “Godfather” essence in terms of its use of lingering basis. Made from the inards of Italian cinema, this film represents both an edgy manifestation of the wielding of power, evidenced in a nuanced if almost alien-like performance from Toni Servillo as Giulio Andreotti, along with a classical elegance bathed in a endless stream of data. The film balances between these essential cinematic sequences optimizing opera and silence and then simple long-take character scenes. This juxtaposition creates an imbalance of effectiveness but jars you in terms of its ability. The beginning aspects hint a larger possibility underneath which meanders a little bit to the end in congruence with staying true to the actual story and not baiting too much in poetic license. But nevertheless, this is a very ambitious and virulent perception of Italian politics from a student of cinema. The after party at Canaletto simmered in white as the “2001” elements of the bar gave an ethereal feeling as the essence of the night washed over in a blaze of indiscretion.


Closing Night Party While most of the films were held at Fashion Island, the final was miles away on a removed peninsula at Via Lido. While more effective in terms of a final venue, location balance created a time lag. While waiting for the party to begin, Malarky’s Irish Pub by walking distance allowed a short pint of Guinness while locals swirled with the black cocktail contingent staring in contentment. The restaurants pulsed upon the opening of the tent with the onion rings and chili from Tommy’s Cafe. Also making the grade was a spicy wrap of with chicken tantalizing the tongue as Perrier bubbled from flittering eyelashes in a roped mix of flashbulbs, talk and whispered glances.

The 10th Annual Newport Beach Film Festival succeeds in their enhancement of a film festival for locals that knows how to maintain its virility. Despite low attendance on the first day attended, the support of the community in tandem until closing showed an intense belief in the power of culture despite a somewhat misguided program structure in terms of the overall breakdown. However a commendable integration of political and cultural highlights stood out in spades giving the confab specific identity.