Movie Review by Toby White
Starring: Matt Dillon, Lili Taylor, Fisher Stevens, Marisa Tomei, Didier Flamand
Director: Bent Hamer
FACTOTUM is not about anything. There’s no clever plot line, no twists, turns or revelations, nothing happens to speak of at all. And that’s what makes it marvellous. Matt Dillon is a drinker and we simply follow his character from job to job and drink to drink, dipping in and out of a symbiotic relationship with Lili Taylor and the odd off-the-wall situation. If anything it’s about a man free-wheeling through life, with a notebook for a companion. Sourced from the book and other stories by Charles Bukowski, ‘FACTOTUM (A MAN WHO PERFORMS MANY JOBS)’ – no, that’s not a typo in there – is Norwegian director Bent Hamer’s first American film. And, having seen it, frankly, we need more Norwegians directing films in America.
It’s reminiscent of Hal Hartley, particularly AMATEUR. The dialogue is delivered deadpan, the characters are wonderfully understated and almost everything that happens to them is met with a matter-of-fact “oh, well.” But this is not to denigrate it. Far from it. Dillon’s scribblings, delivered as narrative as he scribes his booze-fuelled observations, make it as surreal as it is so very real. The humour is subtle and plentiful and yet it raises the sympathy bar as we watch this hopeless and hapless man stumble his way through life with no wherewithal to do anything about it.
All the gloss and consumerism of Hollywood is omitted and we’re watching a film’s bare bones and it’s wonderful. In one sequence – it’s not even a sequence, it’s a shot – a scene where Dillon and Taylor surface one morning, Hamer holds a single wide shot. But we don’t even notice. It’s a pivotal scene as Dillon’s character segues into the next phase of his journey but it’s not given any lavish treatment, it’s not over-dramatised, it’s just simply effective. And that just made me think of something else – the performances. The old adage of a good actor simple “being” doesn’t apply here, the leads in FACTOTUM aren’t trying to “be” alcoholics, they’re genuinely “acting”. And they do it so well. See, that’s the essence of this film. You keep thinking about it long after you leave the cinema.
By all accounts Bukowski’s books follows the fortunes of people on the margins of society. Now, I can’t pretend to be that familiar with his work but I’m certainly going to pick up one up now.