Willem Dafoe is basically Abel Ferrara in disguise.
“Tomasso” feels like a personal film to writer/director Abel Ferrara, because he guides his wife Cristina Chiriac and daughter Anna inside his own apartment in Rome with his fellow collaborator Willem Dafoe as the leading man. That and also he gives the actor his own personal touch by making him seem like the director with his taste and vulnerability.
Fresh from the Cannes Film Festival, the movie is not as profound as some of Dafoe’s previous entries like “The Florida Project” or “The Lighthouse,” because of how dull and confusing the narrative gets at times. But it does shine some light on the actor, and where his character was and will go. It’s more down to Earth for him, as far as we know.
Dafoe is basically Ferrara here as Tommaso, an artist and recovering alcoholic and druggie, living with his wife Nikki (Chiriac) and 3-year-old daughter Deedee (Anna Ferrara) in Rome. We see him in bed with Nikki and spending quality time with Deedee, but we also wonder if he’s really happy.
During his 12-step program, he admits how his relationship with Nikki gets a little complicated, because of an affair she’s having, how she lost her love for him, and also, he plans to make a new movie. But mostly, he explains how his alcoholism threatened to destroy him, and he obviously can’t change the past. And in his spare time, he teaches dances and learns some Italian. Believe me, the actors speaks it very well.
He does contemplate an affair with a student of his, but that subplot never really seems to take off for me. It’s more of a pit stop than an actual character study to me. But aside from that, I was able to see how Ferrara interprets himself into Dafoe by making him vulnerable to his own past and present. The character he writes is an artist, so he’s supposed to be full of passion, grief, and emotions. It’s not labored or forced; it’s quality acting from a quality actor.
There are also moments of visionary value when you least expect them. Tommaso imagines his little girl getting hit by a car, taking out his own heart, and chains himself on a cross. Gazing at these scenes is magnificent in the ways Ferrara directs and paints them like works of art. I’m sorry if I keep saying “art” a lot, but that’s what this picture has.
Most of the time, “Tommaso” keeps you glued to Dafoe’s character in his upsides and downsides, and Ferrara allows him to take his chances and grow into the character. It’s a melancholy, strange, and beautiful portrait, which uses its words and gestures wisely.
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