This review was updated on Sunday, May 22, 2005
Sophomore effort by Norwegian helmer Bent Hamer (“Kitchen Stories”) reps an effortless blending of his offbeat Scandinavian sensibility with the quintessentially American down-and-out milieu. Based on writings by late novelist Charles Bukowski, story tells of author’s frequently unemployed, alkie alter ego, played impeccably by Matt Dillon. Arguably one of the best adaptations of Bukowski’s work, even compared with Bukowski’s own script for 1997’s “Barfly,” deadpan timing and ace perfs bring out the morose humor and surprising warmth in the often miserabilist scribe’s voice. Likely to click with hipster auds, pic should find gainful employment in urban areas and Euro territories.
Script is based on Bukowski’s novel “Factotum” as well as several of his other books. Plot is more a picaresque string of adventures than a traditional three-acter. Living in unnamed city (pic was shot in MInneapolis), protag Henry “Hank” Chinaski (Dillon) drifts from woman to woman, apartment to hovel, and lousy job to lousy job. (Pic’s onscreen subtitle is a parenthetical definition of factotum: “A Man Who Performs Many Jobs.”)
Fired from ice-factory gig in the first scene of pic, Hank moves into a residential hotel and resumes writing, his only other passion, apart from drink. Voiceover explains that he sends unsolicited material continuously to the only publishing outfit he respects, the Black Sparrow Press (Bukowski’s real-life publishers), even though nothing ever gets accepted. Occasionally, he grows discouraged with the perpetual rejections, but, then, Hank’s voiceover explains, he reads any other writer and that gives him heart that he could still do better.
Hank meets fellow barfly Jan (Lili Taylor, superb) in a dive and soon the two are shacking up. Hamer’s skilled directing and Dillon’s poised delivery ensure that Hank’s description of Jan as “an excellent fuck… (who) had a tight pussy and took it like it was knife that was killing her,” somehow manages to sound affectionate rather than offensive.
When Hank starts making money as a bookie, Jan leaves him, and for a while he hooks up with a Laura (an almost recognizable Marisa Tomei), an on-call floozy for eccentric French millionaire Pierre (Didier Flammand) whom she shares with two other women (Adrienne Shelly and Karen Young).
That too ends, and, several dead-end jobs later (bicycle parts factory, statue cleaner, trainee taxi driver), movie doesn’t so much end as simply stop, but not without a final kicker touch.
Reminiscent of early Jim Jarmusch films (which “Factotum” producer Jim Stark also worked on) and those by Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki, humor in Hamer’s pic bubbles up from the deadpan rendering of simple comic vignettes, shot often in one or two take set-ups, that occasionally shade into melancholy.
Thesps deliver lines with laconic perfection, and resist too obvious word-slurring and stumbling when playing drunk, as their characters often are.
Lensing by Norwegian John Christian Rosenlund (“The Color of Milk,” “Dragonfly”) is the standout element in an overall classy tech package, favoring lighting schemes that seem to always suggest late afternoon with shafts of warm light falling into dusty interiors. Two of the non-source songs featured have lyrics by Bukowski himself.