On and Off the Skids

Factotum. Matt Dillon, Lili Taylor, Fisher Stevens,
and Marisa Tomei star in a film written by Bent Hamer and Jim
Stark, based upon the novel by Charles Bukowski, and directed by

Reviewed by Josef Woodard

factotum.gifFor those of us who buy into Charles
Bukowski’s aesthetic, the late L.A. writer created pearls of wisdom
hidden in squalor on the outskirts. Others see a self-indulgent
barfly who happened to have a way with words. Both camps may find
their biases confirmed by the strangely moving Factotum, bringing
us into the courageous and/or shabby life of an infamous American

Factotum is a natural follow-up to Barfly, the 1987 film with
Mickey Rourke as Henry Chinaski, the alter ego of Bukowski (who
wrote Barfly’s screenplay and the original novel on which Factotum
is based). Perhaps tellingly, both films were directed by
Europeans — German Barbet Schroeder for the earlier film and
Norwegian director Bent Hamer for Factotum — who bring a
sympathetic, artful veneer to the projects.

Hamer realizes his film with hypnotic pacing and observational
calm. The narrative slithers along on its own time, with characters
detached from normal day-to-day concerns, lubricated by booze and a
certain cavalier philosophy. Much credit also goes to
cinematographer John Christian Rosenlund and composer Kristin
Asbjørnsen — a cult hero in Norway — for their moody sensory

This time around, Chinaski is fodder for another grand, laconic
performance by Matt Dillon. The role extends Dillon’s bad boy
twists in Drugstore Cowboy, but now he’s older, more grizzled and
occasionally sadistic, and more gifted with tough-loving wisdom.
Chinaski drifts through odd jobs approached as necessary evils to
be avoided by visits to bars. He also falls in with lovers, played
by Lili Taylor and Marisa Tomei, but we sense that Chinaski’s heart
is most easily swayed by the magnetism of drink and prospects of
literary posterity.

“People don’t need love,” said Chinaski, on a morning after both
he and his lover have vomited upon waking, just before breaking up.
“They need success of one form or another.” At another point,
Chinaski offered, “Even at my lowest time, I could feel the words
bubbling inside of me.” Capturing some of the spirit and depth of
those bubbling words in the film medium is tricky business, but
somehow Hamer et al. manage the feat. Or maybe that’s just a
Bukowski fan talking.


Please note this login is to submit events or press releases. Use this page here to login for your Independent subscription

Not a member? Sign up here.