by Tony Medley
This is a portrait of an artist as a slovenly drunk. While compelling,
it is very slow and not much happens. My feeling is that only a writer could enjoy it. I’m a
writer and I really didn’t enjoy it, but I did understand it. When
you’re a writer, that’s the way you are born. You want to write. Nothing
else matters. This film captures that.
Based on an autobiographical
novel by Charles Bukowski, Henry Chinaski (Matt Dillon) is a lazy,
alcoholic bum who loves to write. There is nothing admirable about him
except his burning ambition to put words to paper. He falls for a boozy
slut, Jan (Lili Taylor). They live lives of not-so-quiet desperation.
Their rooms are dirty and disheveled. There is nothing in their lives
that looks happy or like fun.
“Factotum” is directed in
deadpan fashion by Norwegian new wave filmmaker Bent Hamer and reflects
a distinctly Scandinavian sensibility. Rather than following a tightly
structured narrative, the film features an ambling series of vignettes
that are deliberately paced and frequently end on a melancholy note.
With exceptional performances that capture the intoxicated journey
through life and art, “Factotum” is the story of a man living on the
edge; a writer who risks everything, tries anything, and finds poetry in
life’s pleasure and pain. As such, it is an interesting picture of the
artistic temperament, a man whose inherent talent is fighting an alter
ego that pushes him into degradation.
Factotum means ‘man who
performs many jobs,’ and the down and out Chinaski does just that,
drifting from one low paying, dead end job to another -- including ice
deliveryman, pickle factory worker, bicycle safety shop employee, auto
parts stockboy, statue cleaner, and even a short lived stint as a taxi
driver trainee – all the while writing short stories and submitting them
to a pulp magazine, Black Sparrow Press, which was actually Bukowksi’s
real life publisher.
The film is warmly lit and
shot in Minneapolis by Cinematographer John Christian Rosenlund, and set
against an appropriate backdrop of dismal low income housing and
depressing workplaces upon which Bukowski thrived. The production
design by Eve Cauley Turner and costume design by Tere Duncan closely
support the director’s offbeat vision of a down and out milieu that is
consummately American. The film’s score is by Kristin Asbjornsen and
several of the film’s unusual songs feature lyrics written by Bukowski