Review: ‘Zeros and Ones,’ starring Ethan Hawke

December 5, 2021

by Carla Hay

Ethan Hawke in “Zeros and Ones” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Zeros and Ones”

Directed by Abel Ferrara

Culture Representation: Taking place in Rome in 2020, the dramatic film “Zeros and Ones” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A middle-aged American soldier goes looking for his missing identical twin brother, who is suspected of being linked to terrorists planning to blow up the Vatican.

Culture Audience: “Zeros and Ones” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of writer/director Abel Ferrara and shallow, sloppily made movies that try to come across as deep and artsy.

Ethan Hawke in “Zeros and Ones” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

The dull and incoherent drama “Zeros and Ones” is an example of how writer/director Abel Ferrara continues to bury himself so self-indulgently in his garbage films that he dumps out, he no longer seems capable of detecting his own cinematic stink. It’s yet another odious entry in Ferrara’s overrated filmography, which is littered with too many half-baked ideas that he’s fooled people into financing, just because he made some provocative films in the 1980s and 1990s. And yet, just like a cult following, there are certain people who think Ferrara can do no wrong. They praise everything he does, even though they would trash his movies if he were an unknown filmmaker.

It’s that same brainwashed mindset that seems to have lured Ethan Hawke into wanting to star in “Zeros and Ones,” which has two separate pre-recorded messages from Hawke: One message is at the beginning of the movie, while the other is at the end. In the introductory message, Hawke says he always wanted to do a movie with Ferrara, but he admits that even he couldn’t tell what “Zeros and Ones” was about when Ferrara sent the movie’s outline to Hawke.

Hawke also says that he didn’t even get a real screenplay, thereby hinting that much of this movie had no real story structure while filming, and people just “winged it” as they went along. It certainly looks that way, because all you’ll see in the time-wasting 86 minutes of total running time for “Zeros and Ones” are a bunch of randomly strewn, mostly darkly lit, shaky-cam scenes that don’t add up to much. You’d be hard-pressed to remember one major plot development in this sloppy and horrendous film.

In the movie’s end-credits message, Hawke almost looks a little embarrassed that he was somehow convinced to do a shill campaign video message to try to explain why this crappy movie even exists. It’s bad enough that Hawke is starring in this forgettable mess. It looks like Ferrara or someone on the filmmaking team coaxed Hawke to also be a movie publicist in these messages, where he somewhat pathetically pleads viewers to try to understand what the film is about. In the end-credits message, Hawke doesn’t even really want to talk about “Zeros and Ones,” but instead gives a rambling monologue about how life can be looked at optimistically or pessimistically. Maybe that’s his way of making himself feel better that he got caught in another stinker bomb from Ferrara.

“Zeros and Ones” is supposed to be about an American soldier named J.J. Jericho (played by Hawke), who goes to Rome to find his identical twin brother Justin Jericho (also played by Hawke), who has gone missing. At various points in the movie, people tell J.J. that Justin is imprisoned or is dead. It’s easy to tell these twin characters apart. Justin is the one who looks like he was rejected for an audition to play Charles Manson.

Why is Justin in trouble? He’s a suspected terrorist. And the word is that he knows about plans to blow up the Vatican. This movie takes place in 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic quarantines, so there are several references to the pandemic during the movie. It looks like many of the outdoor scenes were filmed in a rushed and jittery manner, as if maybe the filmmakers didn’t have a permit and wanted to get the filming done before they could get caught.

“Zeros and Ones” is such a pointless movie, Ferrara has problems explaining what the movie is about in his incoherent director’s statement that was supplied to the media. He comments in the statement: “‘Zeros and Ones’ is a film of lockdown and war, danger and espionage, American soldiers, Chinese middlemen, Middle Eastern holy men, provocateurs, diplomats, rogue elements of the KGB, and the Mossad, informants, killers and rebels. Male or female interchangeable, allegiance and history fluid, where data and information last known, is the most valuable and only commodity.”

The rambling statement continues: “A casbahesque landscape of noir streets, the feeling of Paris at the end of the occupation—but set in today’s post-modern, ancient and unchangeable Rome—the nights deserted except for the shadowy military and their operatives, paranoia and fear both masked and dangerous—all awaiting imminent attack. Piazza Vittorio, ground zero for our film. J. Jericho its hero. An American soldier armed with a video camera, service revolver and a surgical mask, he is of rank and privilege and deep within the inner circle of elite fellow officers who are the law among the lawless, their contacts and their informers.”

More ramblings in the statement: “The central event is the destruction of the Vatican which will be blown into the night sky—the truth of this—and the fake news surrounding exactly who is responsible and why—is only part of the story. More important is JJ’s own brother—the radical, the wanted revolutionary, the martyr, savior and public enemy accused of pushing our world towards a final confrontation, one that will force all the players to finally choose a side then take a stand.”

That last sentence in the statement actually doesn’t happen to the movie. Instead, what you see are random scenes haphazardly edited together, if you can actually see what’s happening because almost everything in this movie is so murky and ugly-looking. There’s J.J. being driven around in a Jeep, where he’s dropped off at various locations and takes a video camera with him. J.J. eventually encounters a shady character named Luciano (played by Valerio Mastandrea), who does a lot of standing around and scowling.

And there’s J.J. going to the home of a woman named Valeria (played by Valeria Correale), who kisses J.J. on the mouth while they’re both wearing their pandemic masks. She asks him, “Have you figured out what you’re doing in my country?” J.J. replies, “I’m working on it,” which is the sort of confusion that Hawke must’ve felt as he asked himself while filming: “Have I figured out what I’m doing in this train-wreck movie?”

There’s J.J. buying cocaine from a mysterious woman named Jiao (played by Korlan Madi), in what might be a massage parlor. J.J. has bought the cocaine so that he can use it to later bribe someone for information. Jiao appears to be not only a drug dealer but also some kind of madam, because there are two scantily clad women nearby who are making out with each other. The women are identified in the film’s end credits as Jiao’s Girl #1 (played by Barbara Andres) and Jiao’s Girl #2 (played by Sun Jiaying), who normally would be forgotten background extras, except that they show up later in the film because Ferrara can’t seem to make a movie without showing exploitative misogyny.

That’s because Jiao and her two “girls” are later seen in a lingering close-up scene as bloody, mutilated corpses in “Zeros and Ones,” with no explanation. It’s seems that Ferrara can’t get enough of showing women as targets of bloody violence in his most recent films. It’s a disgusting fixation that his gullible “fans” want to ignore, or maybe they condone it. It’s all just lazy filmmaking that shows Ferrara is so creatively bankrupt that he repeatedly puts in his movies the misogynistic trope of women being killed in excessively violent ways.

Ferrara has also been putting his much-younger wife Cristina Chiriac in his most recent movies, because apparently that’s the only way she can get work as an actress, based on her filmography. (As of this writing, the only acting credits that Chiriac has are in movies that have been directed by Ferrara.) In “Zeros and Ones,” Chiriac plays one of two unnamed female Russian agents (Chiriac is brunette, the other actress is blonde), who are first seen randomly having a dinner with some men where they all ramble on about Norman Mailer. This dinner conversation has nothing to do with the movie’s so-called plot.

Later, the blonde female Russian agent (played by Dounia Sichov), who is sullen and tries to look tough, holds up a gun to J.J., and forces him into a bedroom where a man identified as a doctor (played by Simone Gandolfo) also has a gun and is standing near a video camera that is recording what’s about to happen. The female Russian agent played by Chiriac is on the bed wearing lingerie and trying to look seductive.

The blonde Russian agent then barks to J.J.: “Here’s the deal. You knock her up, and you walk out of here.” The armed agent also tells J.J. that the doctor is standing by with the necessary medical equipment to find out if the sex has resulted in a pregnancy. And so, J.J. is held hostage at gunpoint to have sex with the brunette female Russian agent, who is depicted by the real-life wife of the director.

Why is J.J. being forced to impregnate her? Don’t expect an explanation. This sex scene isn’t explicit, but the fact that Ferrara put what is essentially a sexual-assault scene (any non-consensual sex is sexual assault) in the movie tells people more than we need to know about why he wanted his wife to do this type of twisted sex scene.

As for J.J.’s suspected terrorist twin Justin, he’s being held captive somewhere in a grungy-looking torture room. Justin is dirty-looking, disheveled and unhinged. He doesn’t look capable of remembering his name, let alone masterminding a plot to blow up the Vatican. Justin’s captors are men with Middle Eastern accents (more lazy stereotyping), and he’s injected with an unnamed drug.

Before whatever Justin was injected with starts to take effect, he shouts: “It takes more than guns to kill a man! You can’t kill me! I’ll be back after the sound and fury is finished!” Later, Justin yells repeatedly, “How come no one is lighting themselves on fire anymore?”

In another part of the movie, an unidentified man goes through water torture. Watching “Zeros and Ones” is a different type of torture. Don’t expect the movie’s title to be explained. But here’s what the title of the movie should be about: The “zeros” are the loser characters in this movie, and the “ones” are the unlucky individuals who got suckered into funding this trash dump passing itself off as a movie.

Lionsgate released “Zeros and Ones” in select U.S. cinemas, digital and VOD on November 14, 2021. The movie’s release date on Blu-ray and DVD is January 4, 2022.

Review: ‘Siberia’ (2021), starring Willem Dafoe

July 24, 2021

by Carla Hay

Willem Dafoe in “Siberia” (Photo by Federico Vagliati/Lionsgate)


Directed by Abel Ferrara

Some language in Aleut and Russian with no subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in various locations around the world, the dramatic film “Siberia” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Asians, Eskimos and one African American) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A loner, who is haunted by past tragedies and regrets, experiences a “fever dream” type of existence where he can no longer distinguish reality from his nightmarish visions.

Culture Audience: “Siberia” will appeal primarily to ardent fans of director Abel Ferrara and actor Willem Dafoe, because very few other people will enjoy this nonsensical and dull movie.

Willem Dafoe and Laurent Arnatsiaq in “Siberia” (Photo by Federico Vagliati/Lionsgate)

Some film directors were labeled “auteurs” early in their careers. And ever since then, certain people have been deluded into thinking that every movie that these “auteurs” make is somehow supposed to be important—even when these “auteurs” have made some substandard and ridiculous movies that would be trashed if those same movies were made by unknown filmmakers. Unfortunately, one of these pompous junk movies is the incomprehensible drama “Siberia,” directed by Abel Ferrara, who has been coasting on an outdated reputation of being an “auteur” filmmaker since the 1980s.

Simply put: “Siberia” (which Ferrara co-wrote with Christ Zois) is an irritating, self-indulgent, incoherent bore. It’s one of those garbage movies that’s pretentious and lacking in self-awareness of how bad it is. The only reason why people might praise this movie is because there are famous names involved in making the film. However, whatever claim to fame these people have, it’s for work that’s of much higher quality than the forgettable and embarrassing “Siberia.”

Willem Dafoe (a frequent collaborator of Ferrara’s) has the starring role in “Siberia,” which has no plot. It’s just a bunch of scenes strung together of Dafoe’s character in the movie having “fever dream” type of experiences, none of which make much sense or have any specific theme. The only conclusion that can be drawn from watching this movie is that Ferrara wanted to do yet another movie about a man having a mid-life crisis and couldn’t be bothered with writing anything that could pass as an engaging story.

Dafoe’s Clint character (who is American) isn’t just having a mid-life crisis. He seems to be having a mid-life psychosis. Almost everything he experiences in the movie might seem to start off looking “normal,” but then something demented happens to let viewers know everything is all in Clint’s imagination. There are bits and pieces of his past that come up to indicate that he’s haunted by some unresolved issues. However, there’s barely enough information to piece together what really happened, because it’s all muddled by more weird fantasies.

It’s all just a very pseudo-intellectual way to make viewers feel less than smart if they don’t understand the “true meaning” of a movie. Actually, sometimes there is no “true meaning” to a horribly dumb film with no real story. Sometimes filmmakers just want to mess around and make weird art that’s not supposed to make sense. If you’re into that sort of thing, then you might enjoy “Siberia,” because there are no redeeming qualities for this movie since it was obviously made only for the sake of being bizarre.

“Siberia” starts off with brief voiceover narration from Clint. He says that when he was a kid, during the summertime his father would take Clint and Clint’s brother up to a remote part of northern Canada to go fishing. They had Cree Indians as their fishing guides. The guide leader was an old trapper, who cut himself off from civilization 20 years before and communicated by shortwave radio. The guides lived in a camp that had Siberian Huskies that were “sweet but wild,” according to Clint.

The only purpose for telling this story is so there’s some context to the scenes where Clint is on a dog sled pulled by Siberian Huskies or when he goes fishing or camping with his Siberian Huskies nearby. What does Clint do for a living? He’s a bartender at a roadhouse in an unnamed area that gets heavy snow. It could be Siberia, but this movie plays too many guessing games on where scenes are taking place in the world, and it’s all irrelevant overall to the story.

Wherever Clint lives, there are hints that it seems to be close to the Arctic, because he has Eskimos and people who speak Russian as his customers. Clint lives by himself and there’s no mention of his brother again. However, based on hallucinations that Clint has later, he used to be married to a blonde (played by Dounia Sichov), and they had a young son (played by Anna Ferrara) who died, apparently at around 3 or 4 years old.

Don’t expect any details to be revealed about how this child died or what happened to Clint’s wife, because there are no details except hints that the wife blamed Clint for the son’s death and he feels guilty about it. She shows up in a hallucination or two where she tells Clint that she’s angry at him because he humiliated her. Don’t expect to find out more information about their relationship, because the movie doesn’t reveal it.

By the way, Clint is the only character in this movie who has a name, which is a reflection of the self-absorbed lunacy that stinks up this movie. Viewers can assume that Clint’s wife divorced him. It might be the only thing about this movie that makes sense, because who would want to be married to someone who’s this cut off from reality?

The roadhouse where Clint works (it’s unclear if he’s the owner or not) has a small slot machine for gambling. Clint tells a customer that he never plays the slot machine because “I don’t want to lose.” As soon as Clint makes that comment, the movie then abruptly cuts to a scene of Clint getting attacked by a brown bear in this roadhouse. And then, the next scene is of an unharmed Clint talking to two Russian-speaking women at the bar as if nothing happened. The bear attack is not spoken about or hinted at again. Yes, it’s that kind of incoherent movie.

When people speak in non-English languages (Aleut or Russian) in this movie, there are no subtitles. It doesn’t really matter because much of the dialogue in English doesn’t make sense. The two Russian-speaking women at the bar are a young pregnant woman (played by Cristina Chiriac) and her elderly mother (played by Valentina Rozumenko), who are the bar’s only customers in this scene. They appear to be having a pleasant conversation with each other, while Clint nods, even though he doesn’t understand what they’re saying.

For no apparent reason, except to have a gratuitious scene with nudity and sex, the pregnant woman unbottons her clothes, to expose her naked front side, and then Clint kisses her pregnant belly and lower—all while right next to the woman’s mother, who’s watching with an approving look on her face. Clint and the pregnant woman are next seen having sex in a bedroom. At least Voyeur Russian Grandma wasn’t there to leer at them while they were having sex.

But that isn’t the last that the movie shows Voyeur Russian Grandma. The next time Clint sees her, she’s dead or unconscious, with blood between her legs, and an unidentified bloody animal’s head (possibly a horse) in between her legs. Clint sees her and does nothing to try to get her medical help. What is the purpose of this scene? Nothing. However, someone using Freudian psychology would speculate that it’s a msyognistic scene thought up by someone who has “mother issues.”

In fact, much of “Siberia” has subtle and not-so-subtle sexism, because all of the female characters with speaking roles in the movie are either mentally disturbed, angry or used as sex objects. There’s a montage scene where Clint has sex with three different unidentified women: one white (played by Maria Knofe), one Asian (played by Cornelia Nguyen Luu) and one black (played by Ilham Midjiyawa). It might be Ferrara’s way of saying that he deserves credit for having a racial diversity checklist when it comes to misogynistic, gratutitous sex scenes where the females have to show their private parts but not the male star of the movie. And it should come as no surprise that the movie has a demon character (played by Stella Pecollo) that Ferrara deliberately decided should be a woman.

The hatred isn’t just directed toward women. Clint has a lot of self-hatred too. In one scene, Clint calls out the name “Mitchell” (don’t expect to find out who Mitchell is), before falling down a cliff into a cave, where he hallucinates seeing a version of himself in some water in the cave. His reflection scolds Clint: “You pretend to be open to all things but can’t see how close-minded you are. Your soul is outside of it and you must claim it … Time will pass and you’ll continue to be lost … You were never a loving son. You were a burden to him, and now to me.”

Predictably, when Clint hallucinates seeing his father, his father looks just like Clint. (Dafoe plays both characters.) Clint sees his father dressed in a longjohn in the cave, where Clint appears to envision being in some kind of nightmarish hospital setting. A woman in a hospital gown wanders by in a daze and keeps repeating, “Teach me how to die.”

In this “hospital” scene, there’s an overweight nude little woman in a wheelchair, which seems a tad exploitative of disabled little people. There’s also an overweight naked woman dancing as if she’s insane, while she keeps repeating, “I’m waiting for the doctor.”

In another hallucination, Clint has ended up in an unnamed desert where people wear turbans, live in tents and have camels as pets. In one of the tents, Clint sees his father dressed as a surgeon and operating on Clint’s son. Don’t expect there to be any explanation for this operation scene. Viewers will never find out if this happened in Clint’s real life and will never find out if Clint’s father was a surgeon.

In a different “daddy issues” scene, Clint wanders into a run-down house, where heavy-metal music is blaring and some dirty-looking people in their late teens and early 20s are gleefully kicking around a locked trunk-sized box that has someone inside who’s screaming in agony. Some horrible quick-cut editing shows that the person inside the box has managed to climb out. And it’s Clint’s son. Some viewers won’t be surprised because it’s another example of “Siberia” doing something purely for shock value, not to further a plot that doesn’t exist in the first place.

There’s a random scene of fully naked men being rounded up by soldiers and brutally shot to death. Who are these men? Don’t expect the movie to reveal that either. In another scene, British actor Simon McBurney has a “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” cameo as a magician whom Clint meets at an unnamed location. Clint tells him, “I hear you’re a great magician. I hear you’re into the black arts.” McBurney’s character is not seen or heard from again, and viewers never find out why Clint wants to dabble in the black arts.

“Siberia” is like being stuck in someone’s unpleasant psychedelic hallucinations for about 90 minutes. A lot of people who take psychedelics say they want to have deeper enlightenment about life when they get to the other side. The only enlightenment that viewers will get from “Siberia” is that some overrated filmmakers are very good at convincing people to give them money to make crappy movies.

Lionsgate released “Siberia” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on June 18, 2021, and on Blu-ray and DVD on June 22, 2021.

Review: ‘Tommaso,’ starring Willem Dafoe

June 7, 2020

by Carla Hay

Willem Dafoe and Cristina Chiriac in “Tommaso” (Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber)


Directed by Abel Ferrara

Italian and English with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Rome, the drama “Tommaso” has a predominantly white cast (with a few black people) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A middle-aged American filmmaker who’s a recovering drug addict/alcoholic has emotional conflicts while he’s started a new life in Italy.

Culture Audience: “Tommaso” will appeal primarily to fans of filmmaker Abel Ferrara and actor Willem Dafoe, as well to people who like arthouse movies that don’t follow a conventional storytelling structure.

Anna Ferrara, Willem Dafoe and Cristina Chiriac in “Tommaso” (Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber)

Abel Ferrara is one of those filmmakers who had a reputation for being quite the provocateur back in the 1980s and 1990s (his most famous movie is 1992’s “Bad Lieutenant”), but his films in more recent decades have lost a lot of their edge and originality.  Although the drama “Tommaso” is elevated by the terrific talent of star Willem Dafoe, too much of the movie is unfocused and self-indulgent, and it’s far from being one of Ferrara’s best films.

People interested in seeing “Tommaso” should know up front that the movie is more of a psychological portrait than a straightforward narrative. And it becomes clear early on in the story that although the film is told from the perspective of the title character Tommaso (played by Dafoe), his narrative viewpoint is very unreliable. The overall concept for “Tommaso” (which is loosely inspired by Ferrara’s own real-life experiences) also isn’t very original: a man going through a mid-life crisis.

In the beginning of the movie, it seems as if Tommaso has a contented life: He’s an American filmmaker who’s moved to Italy and started a new family with his 29-year-old Russian-Italian partner Nikki (played by Ferrara’s real-life wife Cristina Chiriac), who’s the mother of their pre-school-age daughter DeeDee (played by Ferrara’s real-life daughter Anna Ferrara). Tommaso and Nikki both seem to be very devoted parents, but there’s some unease in their love relationship, which becomes more fraught during the course of the movie.

Nikki is a homemaker, while Tommaso works a great deal from home too, so they are both able to spend quality time with DeeDee. Just like Ferrara, Tommaso is a New Yorker who moved to Italy several years ago to start a new life and a new family with a new romantic partner. Tommaso also appears to be a fading independent filmmaker, since he lives in a middle-class apartment with Nikki and DeeDee. Tommaso is well-known enough to have recognition in the international film community, but he’s not financially wealthy by any stretch of the imagination.

And when Tommaso talks about his best work, it seems to be in his distant past when he was living in the United States and when he was in the throes of his addiction to drugs and alcohol. Now clean and sober for six years, Tommaso is working on a new screenplay, but he seems to have writer’s block and he doesn’t have much contact with his peers in the film industry.

Instead, Tommaso spends most of his days taking care of DeeDee (when he brings her to a local park to play with other kids her age, he’s the only male parent there); going to his favorite café; taking Italian language lessons; practicing yoga alone; and teaching an acting class that places a lot of emphasis on body movement. At night, he regularly goes to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, where members of the group share their addiction stories and talk about other problems in their lives.

Tommaso seems to have an easygoing, friendly demeanor, but he shows flashes of anger and controlling behavior with Nikki. One day, when Nikki decides to take DeeDee on a day trip to visit Nikki’s mother, Nikki says she’s taking the metro, but Tommaso insists that she takes a taxi instead. He refuses to listen to her saying that it’s not necessary for him to call a taxi, and he calls one anyway. On another day in their home, he yells at Nikki because she started to eat lunch without him. He angrily berates her for not telling him that lunch was ready so that he could eat lunch with her.

Tommaso also complains to Nikki and to other people (including members of his AA support group and even a random taxi driver) that Nikki’s not paying enough attention to him and that when he tries to help her, she “pushes” him away. He also tells his AA support group some of Nikki’s personal history, such as how Nikki’s mother left Nikki’s abusive, alcoholic father when Nikki was 4, and that Nikki is still estranged from her father and has emotional issues because of it.

While in a taxi, Tommaso gripes to the driver that everything changed after DeeDee was born. Tommaso believes that Nikki has been shutting him out emotionally and putting all of her energy into raising DeeDee. Tommaso’s complaints are classic signs of a narcissist who gets very jealous if he’s not the center of attention.

As for Tommaso and Nikki’s sex life, it’s been dwindling. Tommaso usually has to initiate their sexual intimacy, while Nikki seems increasingly reluctant, as if she’s falling out of love with Tommaso. One day, while Tommaso is at the park with DeeDee, Tommaso sees Nikki passionately kissing a blonde bearded man (played by Stefano Papa) in his late 20s or early 30s. When Tommaso sees Nikki later at home, he doesn’t tell her what he saw, and he acts as if nothing is wrong.

But did this act of infidelity really happen, or is it in Tommaso’s head? There are signs throughout the movie that Tommaso has a vivid imagination or is seriously delusional. In one scene, he’s at his favorite café, and there’s no one else there except for him and the attractive young waitress he usually sees there—except when she serves him his espresso, she’s completely naked.

And the story also has a fantasy sequence of Tommaso being led in handcuffs to a police station, where the police chief interrogates Tommaso about trying to create civil unrest by making speeches in the piazza. Tommaso replies, “The trouble with you is your mind is closed. You lack empathy.”

There’s also a scene where Tommaso is on his apartment balcony when he sees Nikki and DeeDee below on a sidewalk. He calls out and waves to them. And then, DeeDee runs out into the street and gets hit by a car. But it turns out to be a horrific hallucination from Tommaso.

And there’s another gruesome delusion where Tommaso is at the park and sitting around a fire with unidentified African men, when he reaches into his chest, takes out his bloody heart, and offers it to them.  “Where is all of this going?” viewers might ask.

Although “Tommaso” doesn’t have a coherent plot, it’s clear that the movie is supposed to be a story of Tommaso’s psychological unraveling. Much of the film consists of what appears to be mundane “slice of life” routines in Tommaso’s life, but as the story unfolds, some of the scenes in the movie can be interpreted as “reality” or “fantasy” in Tommaso’s life.

The best scenes in “Tommaso” are those with Tommaso at the AA meetings, because they are the scenes where Tommaso not only opens up the most emotionally but he (and the viewers) get outside of Tommaso’s head and experience empathy for these group members’ stories. It is during one of these meetings that Tommaso breaks down and cries when he confesses regret about the two adopted daughters he abandoned from his first marriage. “Tommaso” would have been a much better movie if it had included more scenes from the AA meetings and less scenes of Tommaso in his acting classes, which look more like New Age exercise classes than any discussion of real acting.

Even though the storytelling in “Tommaso” isn’t linear, the movie does a fairly good job of unpeeling the layers of Tommaso’s gentlemanly façade, thanks to Dafoe’s riveting performance. In one well-acted scene, after an AA meeting, Tommaso offers to walk home one of the meeting’s young women (an American who’s temporarily staying in Italy), since he appears to be concerned about her walking home alone at night.

During their conversation back to her place, he starts asking her about her love life, and she admits she’s “happily single.” Tommaso makes a point of telling her that he’s always had a romantic partner in his life, which is his subtle way of saying that he’s never had a problem getting women. It’s clear that Tommaso is fishing to see if this woman has any vulnerabilities. He seems a little disappointed when they arrive at her place and she gives him a friendly kiss on the cheek, making it clear that she’s not interested in sleeping with Tommaso.

Tommaso’s relationship with women can be considered fairly problematic, since he only seems interested in women who are at least 25 years younger than he is, and he doesn’t seem interested in treating any women as equals. He flirts with his young Italian-language instructor (played by Maricla Amoriello) and uses a “breathing exercise lesson” as an excuse to get his arms around her and rub parts of her body. And when he and a young female student (played by Alessandra Camilla Scarci) from his acting class are alone in her car, and she starts complaining about her father, it’s not a shock when he uses this moment of “daddy issues” vulnerability to start making out with her.

It’s no doubt symbolic of Tommaso’s narcissism that he, Nikki and DeeDee are among the few people with names in the movie. And it’s also symbolic of Ferrara’s “old school” male gaze that there are several women in the movie who have full frontal nudity but none of the men.

It was considered edgy when Ferrara’s “Bad Lieutenant” featured a full-frontal male nude scene with star Harvey Keitel. But now, Ferrara seems to have lost that edge by walking down the same, tired cliché path of other filmmakers who put completely naked women in their movies just because they can. The attitude with these “male gaze” filmmakers seems to be that showing a full-frontal naked man in a movie is an unacceptable threat, even in a sex scene where a woman is required to be naked too.

Dafoe has such a high caliber of acting talent that he is the main reason to watch this rambling and often-dull movie, whose running time is almost two hours. Although the cinematography from Peter Zeitlinger is occasionally very eye-catching, ultimately, the screenplay, editing and overall direction of “Tommaso” are muddled and at times sloppy. Some people might also be upset with how the movie ends. But if viewers do make it to the end of the film, they’ll have to slog through this “reality versus fantasy” world that ends up confusing who the real Tommaso is and thereby obscuring his humanity.

Kino Lorber released “Tommaso” in select U.S virtual cinemas on June 5, 2020.

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