Movies We Like
When it comes to Bukowski, the rest of the world can be separated into three categories: those who don't know he exists, those who praise his unconventional poetry and language, and those who detest his work and see him as a glorified alcoholic and womanizer. As far as films surrounding Bukowski are concerned, many are aware of or have seen Barfly, which attempts to paint a portrait of the man and his muses. I've mentioned Factotum to others and most are unaware of the film, just as I was unaware of others based on him and his work in general. The title is taken from a work of Bukoski's with the same name, which I have haven't read, nor have I seen other films surrounding his alter-ego and work, and this includes documentaries. A large part of me doesn't want to, which is why this film works well for me and others who are unaware of or not interested in doting on another poet. Matt Dillon's performance - and the film as a whole - makes it easy to take the film in for what it is, a movie about an alcoholic who is a writer, gambler, womanizer, and blue-collar misfit. You can find this person, give or take a few qualities, within most artists and writers. The fact that Dillon's character is named Chinaski instead of Bukowski, and that everything is centralized in a few events and acquaintances, removes the film from your traditional adaptation. In short, even if you are among those who don't like or don't know of the writer, you can enjoy this due to its lack of a "faithful" attachment to him or the work.
While I cherish a lot of Dillon's early performances, his humility and openness with this role brings it very close, if not equal to my favorite role of his in The Saint of Fort Washington. Another thing that warmed me up to the movie, if not biased me to it, is the fact that it is shot in Minnesota, where I'm from, and based in Los Angeles, where I live now. The efforts directors use to accentuate the parts of states and cultures that are similar and translucent always intrigues me. But enough of that tangent. The second most treasured aspect of the film is the soundtrack by Kristin AsbjÃ¸rnsen, which uses eerie female vocals that remind me of Tom Waits and lyrics by Bukowski, accompanied by everything from violins to xylophones.
If you look at it through what unsavory experiences you've had in your lifetime, the film is really a dark comedy, beginning with the irony of the title. Chinaski's number one goal is to be intoxicated at all times, while working as little as possible. His jobs are positions that I either forgot or never knew existed. He's an ice-delivery man, a worker in a pickle factory, and everything in-between. Each dead-end job lasts him a series of weeks, if that, and with his earnings he rents seedy motels and spends the rest of his time trying to raise his income at the tracks and meet women in various bars. One of the women, and arguably his tortured soul-mate, is Jan (Lili Taylor). When not accompanying Chinaski to the track or romping on their temporary furniture, the two sulk indoors and fight, splitting for periods, only to realize that they are perfect for each other. Behind the comedy of their dysfunctional relationship is a heavy and precious romance that you cannot ignore or sneer at through indifference. Taylor matches Dillon line for line, and with every grimy encounter they push to deliver characters who are pitiful in most respects, and yet people who are so steadfast and loyal to their lifestyles that you can't help but applaud them for giving it their all. It inspired me to pick up some of Bukowski's work and read it with a different understanding. It became something that is proud and sometimes obnoxious, and yet honest, with every disgraceful fault laid on the line. The fact that these characters aren't hiding anything turns them into something strange, and yet familiar--like a scab that turns into a scar which you grow comfortable with.
Between trysts with Jan, Chinaski meets Laura (Marisa Tomei), a socialite and reserved alcoholic who is drawn into Chinaski's shamelessness and efforts in the bedroom. Their adventures are just as important to the plot and help define Chinaski in terms of his women and how he feeds off of them. Some grant him affection only, and in the case of Laura, serve as a sponsor/sex slave. Things are temporary with her, and eventually he runs into Jan again. They dive deeper into their previous lifestyle, until things become unbearable again. And that's the plot of the film. Though Dillon is narrating Bukowski's poetry over the entire movie, the fact that it is verse that we experience and not standard narration makes this the perfect movie to dwell on and inspires you to want to read more poetry. To me, the mimicry of Bukowski's spirit, and that of other troubled poets, is more important to the success of the film. Factotum is a cynical dark comedy that does not divide audiences, nor does it ask for forgiveness. It is honest, open, and completely exposed. Highly Recommended.