CANNES–John Turturro’s intense, offbeat personality as an actor comes through equally clearly in his directorial debut, “Mac.” A tribute to the notion of craftsmen loving the work they do, as well as an expression of quirky humor among three Italian-American brothers, winner of the Camera d’Or for best first film in Cannes is appealing in an idiosyncratic way and has some potential on the fest and specialized theatrical circuits.
Dedicated to Turturro’s father, and inspired by his career as a carpenter, film is fired by the urge to get ahead in suburban America of the 1950s, pride in building something of value, and irrepressible ethnic emotionalism, blood ties and mirth. Structuring and storytelling has its ragged, unmodulated side, and pic is at its best in individual scenes that burst with fresh, unexpected attitudes and dialogue.
Story is centered upon the title character, the oldest of three brothers who live in Queens. In the wake of his father’s death, the tempermental Mac leaves his construction job to start his own business, determined that he can build houses and run a crew better than his parsimonious Polish boss.
Various obstacles present themselves–the Pole deliberately bids on property Mac covets in order to drive the price up; workers leave random items buried in drying cement; the former cattle pasture upon which Mac builds his houses leaves a residual smell of manure–and a final fracture in the tight-knit clan concludes matters on a surprisingly downbeat note.
But several scenes exude a vitality and original outlook that bespeak unmistakable raw talent and a genuine feeling for working-class individuals.
In its eccentric character humor and passionate eruptions of emotion, “Mac” follows in the vein of American cinema arguably started by John Cassavetes and taken up, most prominently, by Martin Scorsese.
Michael Badalucco, who plays the hefty middle brother, does a wonderful riff on the relative importance of a man’s magnetism and physical weight where women are concerned. And who ever thought they’d see Ellen Barkin, playing a suburban beatnik, lying naked on a bed covered by what look to be hundreds of pieces of Wonder bread.
Performances are sharp, led by Turturro’s own as the headstrong leader of the clan. Badalucco and Carl Capotorto are both distinctive and entirely complimentary as the brothers, and Katherine Borowitz, as Turturro’s wife, and Barkin are vibrant as the main women on hand.
Pic is shot in an entirely modern, from-the-hip manner, with no stylistic concessions made for the mid-1950s setting. Even if Turturro isn’t yet a smooth storyteller or master of technique, his grit and ability to evoke the complexity of family relationships bodes well for future outings.