Wednesday, June 10, 2020


I hate to be that critic to relate serious real life/current events to a movie, but in a strange way Abel Ferrara’s Tommaso makes for an interesting companion to all this covid/isolation stuff we’re currently facing. While there are plenty of outside scenes or moments where we see Willem Dafoe’s Tommaso riding on a crowded public train (there’s also a subplot regarding an experimental actor’s workshop where people are in close proximity to each other) a lot of the key scenes take place inside cars, tiny European-style apartments or between two people on mostly empty streets. Plus the overall tone & ambiance of Tommaso is quite beautifully “blah” and (intentionally) aimless at times. I don’t know about you all, but “blah” & “aimless” are the two biggest feelings that come to mind these days (the movie is also set in Italy which was hit the hardest by Covid). 
Much like the character Tommaso I find myself zoning out, looking out of my window for extended periods of time and going through all kinds of strange insecure thoughts & weird memories that may or may not have happened.

I think the main reason I loved Tommaso so much is because it reminded me of Terrence Malick’s Knight Of Cups. These two films would make for a hell of a double feature. Both movies are semi-autobiographical stories about filmmakers/artists in the midst of an existential crisis. A lot of the camera movements are the same and they use voiceover narration in a similar fashion as well.
There’s also just that same general sense of intentional aimlessness in both movies that I love so much when done right. This is very much a personal preference so if you aren’t in to slightly aimless narratives this one may not be for you (I keep saying aimless but I assure you there is a plot). But at the same time - Dafoe‘s performance is so great that it’s worth sitting through even if movies like Tommaso aren’t your thing...

Knight Of Cups / Tommaso

Knight Of Cups /

Knight Of Cups /

I feel even more attached to this pairing because Abel Ferrara & Terrence Malick have an additional connection. Their previous films - Tree Of Life & Welcome To New York - have a subconscious bond as well. Both movies are semi-autobiographical to Malick & Ferrara and have similar scenes of self-reflection and existential dread combined with the same filmmaking style in certain moments...

Tree Of Life / Welcome To New York

Welcome To New York is similar to Tommaso in that both movies have identical layers. Even though Welcome To New York is loosely based on the Dominique Strauss Khan sexual assault case, Gerard Depardieu’s lead performance has pieces of himself as well as Ferrara sprinkled throughout (while this movie has a lot of Abel Ferrara's personal life, there are a lot of elements that relate to Dafoe's real life as well).

What sets Tommaso a part from Knight Of Cups is that Christian Bale’s portrayal of Malick is going through an artistic & family crisis whereas Willem Dafoe’s portrayal of Abel Ferrara (“Tommaso”) is struggling with all the aforementioned issues along with staying sober and haunting suspicions that his wife is unfaithful (it should be noted that Tommaso’s wife & children in the film are played by Ferrara’s real life wife & child).
This is hardly the first time Abel Ferrara has made an autobiographical/semi-autobiographical film. Harvey Keitel (Dangerous Game), Matthew Modine (Mary), Lili Taylor (The Addiction) & Willem Dafoe (Go Go Tales) have all played characters loosely based on Ferrara at different points in his life. Taylor represented the drug-addicted side of Ferrara while Keitel, Modine & Dafoe have all portrayed Ferrara as a filmmaker at different points in his career.
I just feel like Tommaso is the autobiographical film he’s always wanted to make up til now. Ferrara seemed to take his time with this one.
What’s interesting is that from a religious & spiritual standpoint, you can follow Abel Ferrara’s journey from a conflicted & haunted catholic (Ms. 45, Bad Lieutenant, The Addiction, etc) to his transition in to Buddhism (4:44) right back to the catholic imagery with a mix of Buddhism in Tommaso (I won’t give away the ending but the final shot is quite on the nose). While all the aforementioned films are excellent as far as I’m concerned, there’s a sense of light experimentation in Tommaso that the others don’t have. Not to take anything away from stuff like Dangerous Game or The Addiction but Tommaso doesn’t really have a traditional structure like the others. There’s no real beginning or middle. There is certainly a (powerful) ending but how Ferrara guides us to that end is kind of unexpected. Tommaso is more of a collage of anxious thoughts, fears & flashbacks that Ferrara has been struggling with. This film is an expression of all those things.


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