Film Review: ‘Tommaso’

Director Kim Rossi Stuart aims for a critique of Italian male self-centeredness, but falls back on out-moded psychoanalytic ideas about monstrous mothers to explain infantile behavior.

Tommaso Venice
Courtesy of Venice Film Festival

A neurotic actor can’t look at women without objectifying them in Kim Rossi Stuart’s psychologically facile drama, “Tommaso.” Had producer Carlo Degli Esposti retained the originally announced title, “The Center of the World” (“Il centro del mondo”), the film would have lent more weight to Rossi Stuart’s intended critique of Italian male self-centeredness, whereas “Tommaso” just plays like a Woody Allen-esque portrait of an emotionally castrated guy with mommy issues. The women are definitely more sympathetic than the protagonist, but that doesn’t mean the movie makes insightful comments about the male-female divide. A reasonable success may accrue at home, though offshore chances are slim.

The last time we saw Tommaso was as a child temporarily abandoned by his mother in the director’s 2006 “Along the Ridge.” Now the boy has grown up and is played by Rossi Stuart (who previously took the father’s role) – well, “grown up” might be an exaggeration, since Tommaso is stuck in a Freudian infantile stage, and despite his shrink Mario (Renato Scarpa) constantly harping on finding “the little child within,” the therapy sessions aren’t doing any good.

He’s just broken up with Chiara (Jasmine Trinca), who’s unable to take his obsessive nitpicking anymore. Now that he’s a free man, he sees every woman as a sexual object, whether it’s the pharmacist whose breasts he imagines fondling, or a stranger on the tram, who he literally sees naked. He stares at every attractive woman, yet can’t handle it when one tries to pick him up. Tommaso’s need for control is total, and he’s unable to cope if a woman takes charge.

The cause of all these issues is, surprise, his mother (Dagmar Lassander). She’s a large, sponging presence in his life, her home decorated with sexy photos of herself from decades earlier (audiences may remember Lassander from 1960s/’70s B-grade Euro films): in other words, as usual, blame it on mom. Her implied overwhelming sexuality when he was a child, her abandonment of him, her neediness now all make him incapable of normal relations with women.

It’s the habitual simplistic explanation, using outdated psychoanalytic theories about the monstrous mother to explain why men are trapped in an infantile relationship with the opposite sex. Falling back on such a tired notion hobbles any real critique of Italian gender politics, and once again lays blame on women for creating the problematic man. Perhaps one day someone will make a film that squarely puts the responsibility for male immaturity on men themselves, rather than constantly pointing a finger in the other direction.

Tommaso starts a relationship with Federica (Cristiana Capotondi), but after a year he throws her over as well, unable to cope with little things like food between her teeth, or a slight bump on her lips. What she ever saw in the guy to make her want to stick around for one year (time is poorly signaled) remains unclear. After the breakup he meets sassy waitress Sonia (Camilla Diana), a woman in complete control of every situation. Where his other girlfriends were needy (or perceived as such), Sonia is dependent on no one. While he enjoys her role-playing sex games, ultimately she’s too strong for him to handle.

Rossi Stuart plays Tommaso with the kind of neurotic, verbal intensity of a Woody Allen character, which leaves the scenes of him as an actor with producer Alberta (Serra Ylmaz) lacking in credibility. More natural are the three female leads, all strong, with the lesser-known Diana taking charge of the screen. As a director, Rossi Stuart has proven his bona fides before; here he seems to end his many short scenes before they have a real chance to develop.

Film Review: ‘Tommaso’

Reviewed in Sala Rai, Rome, Aug. 23, 2016. (In Venice Film Festival – out of competition.) Running time: <strong>94 MIN.</strong>

  • Production: (Italy) A 01 Distribution release of a Palomar, Rai Cinema production, in association with Unicredit Factoring. (International sales: True Colours, Rome.) Producer: Carlo Degli Esposti.  
  • Crew: Director: Kim Rossi Stuart. Screenplay: Rossi Stuart, Federico Starnone. Camera (color): Gian Filippo Corticelli. Editor: Marco Spoletini.
  • With: Cristiana Capotondi, Camilla Diana, Jasmine Trinca, Kim Rossi Stuart, Dagmar Lassander, Serra Ylmaz, Edoardo Pesce, Renato Scarpa, Melissa Bartolini, Alessandro Genovesi, Gabriella Infelise, Giovanna Monaci, Valentina Reggio, Romana Fiorini, Francesco Formichetti.