by Anthony King
As a fan of filmmaker Abel Ferrara, I have been most familiar with his earlier works. Recently, though, I sat down to watch one of his many collaborations with Willem Dafoe, and possibly his most autobiographical picture, Tommaso (2019). Many genre fans are familiar with Ferrara's work on films like the psycho-punk slasher Driller Killer (1979), the ultimate revenge tale Ms .45 (1981), the modern gangster thriller King of New York (1990), the ultra-sleazy cop movie Bad Lieutenant, or his vampire film, The Addiction (1995). Shunning Hollywood, Ferrara retreated to the promise of artistic freedom of Europe, and has lived and worked in Italy for the past couple decades. Some have said Ferrara has gone through a third artistic transition since living overseas, and starting with 4:44 Last Day on Earth (2011), many say he has come into his most personal period of filmmaking.
Without spoiling specific moments in the film, there are two very jarring things that happen that may seem out of place to a person who doesn't have an addict's brain. But, after picking my jaw off the floor, these two moments had me nodding my head in agreement while in my head I was saying, “Oh, yeah. Of course. I totally understand that.” Tommaso is erratic. He's volatile. At times he seems like the most dangerous man in the world. Other times he seems like a giant teddy bear. The combination of artist and addict creates sort of the perfect storm. Tommaso is frightening because of that turbulence. In the eye of that storm it's calm, and these are the moments of creative tranquility, tenderness with his wife, walking hand-in-hand with his daughter. He can't stand being around people for very long, no matter who these people are. Yet he can't stand being alone with himself for very long. If things don't go his way, the world may come crumbling down. When he hears a drunk hollering below his window, Tommaso storms out of his building, prepared to grab this man by his throat and rip his larynx out with his bare hands. Moments later, though, after talking with the drunk, these two men part ways almost as best friends. Tommaso can have an angelic twinkle in his eye, and at the drop of a hat, that twinkle can turn to a white hot flame of rage.