Runtime: 115 minutes
Director/Writer: Abel Ferrara
Stars: Willem Dafoe, Cristina Chiriac, Anna Ferrara
By Tom Moore
The newest film from writer/director Abel Ferrara, “Tommaso”, is an artsy snapshot of artistic struggle and inner demons that solidifies how Willem Dafoe is just a marvel to watch in any setting or story.
With his strong background in documentary filmmaking, it’s great to see Ferrara bring some filmmaking elements in to make “Tommaso” feel like he’s capturing a real story. From the more hand-held camera movement, to the way he captures conversations and fully shows the scenery, Ferrara creates this intriguing realism as he captures the life of an American filmmaker named Tommaso (Dafoe) living in Rome with his younger European wife Nikki (Cristina Chiriac) and their three-year-old daughter Dee Dee (Anna Ferrara).
“Tommaso”’s story is pretty simple with it capturing its central character not only adjust to European living, but life as a new dad while attempting to triumph over his personal demons. It’s intriguing to watch him attempt to adjust into the culture by learning Italian and trying to bring his style of performance art to a young generation of performers. Honestly, his performance are classes are a blast to watch with how free Dafoe looks in this environment and the expressive nature of these scenes. Where you really connect with Tommaso is through the pain he unveils through his monologues at sobriety meetings he attends as he was once an alcoholic. There’s a big drive of emotion as he opens up about his past struggles with alcohol and even the moments where Tommaso talks about his struggles with his relationship with Nikki.
The film’s artsy approach to storytelling doesn’t always work out, but luckily it has the one thing that’s always captivating and fun to watch – a great Dafoe performance.
With a generational and cultural divide added on top of the pressures of being a new parent, its easy to feel a tumultuous storm brewing underneath the light-hearted relationship between Tommaso and Nikki. Throughout the film, Ferrara utilizes these dream-like sequences to show the paranoia that Tommaso faces about their relationship as well as the fantasies and nightmares that plague his conscious. With how sweet their relationship is on the surface and the delightful attention they give Dee-Dee, it’s legitimately heart-breaking to see this relationship dissolve like it does and watch Tommaso lose trust and faith throughout his experience. It’s a legitimately intriguing and engaging journey through relationship woes – when the film stays simple.
While the dreamlike sequences create some interesting moments, Ferrara relies a little too heavily on them and it creates this blur in reality that makes it tough to understand the film as a whole. There’re scenes that promote the idea of cheating that feel confusing in the moment because of how Ferrara establishes dream sequences and leads to a lot of questions with very little satisfying answers. The way he also adds in moments of Tommaso reading from a screenplay he’s writing simply add to the confusion since their connection isn’t clear and these moments end up just derailing the momentum of the story and making you wonder what the hell is happening. It’s likely that these dreamlike sequences and Tommaso’s screenplay narration are meant to build on Tommaso’s insecurities and growing paranoia about his and Nikki’s relationship, but it never comes off clear and just add to the one-sided view this film has.
Throughout the film, it constantly feels like it wants to you believe and understand Tommaso’s side of things even when he seems to be in the wrong. Tommaso’s sexual fantasies with other women and feelings about Nikki not providing the love he needs from her create this one-sided story that doesn’t criticize or go against its central character enough. There’s rarely, if ever, a character that attempts to maybe make Tommaso understand the complicated nature of his relationship with Nikki from a different point of view or point out his flaws. Even the idea of his sobriety and past trauma playing into his current stress are brought out and instead it just feels like Nikki is constantly being criticized even though we never see her side of things.
The film’s artsy approach to storytelling doesn’t always work out, but luckily it has the one thing that’s always captivating and fun to watch – a great Dafoe performance. It’s a damn shame that this man doesn’t have multiple Oscars in his hands, let alone just one, and “Tommaso” shows why. He has such a wide range and ability to deliver strangely fun sequences of glee and freedom and emotionally powerful monologues. His screen presence is as incredible as always and with the spotlight pretty much always on him, the film is an excellently showing of his capabilities as an actor.
Even for its lackluster and, at times, problematic and overly artsy storytelling, “Tommaso” still manages to remain a deeply personal story about struggle and generational and cultural divides that made incredibly intriguing to watch thanks largely in part to Dafoe’s incredible ability and commitment.