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‘Tommaso’: a different sort of home movie, with Willem Dafoe as head of the family

Willem Dafoe in "Tommaso."Courtesy Kino Lorber.

“Tommaso” is a vanity picture one step removed. It’s written and directed by Abel Ferrara, a gifted gutter-Scorsese who has been making filmic provocations since the 1970s — “Ms. 45” (1981) was an early cult hit, “Bad Lieutenant” (1992) his artistic high-water mark — and who here collaborates for a sixth time with actor Willem Dafoe on a turgid, if elegantly depraved tour of an aging director’s late-life crisis.

Dafoe plays the title character, an American expatriate filmmaker living in Rome with his much younger Moldovan girlfriend, Nikki (played by Ferrara’s wife Cristina Chiriac), and their toddler daughter, Deedee (Anna Ferrara, the couple’s daughter). He works in spurts on a script set in the Arctic, attends Al-Anon meetings, teaches an acting class made up mostly of nubile young women — and has an agonized inner life that involves disastrous accidents and jealous fantasies. Or maybe they’re not fantasies; Ferrara works hard to keep Tommaso and us on edge.

Largely plotless, confidently self-indulgent, and more leering toward those acting students than seems wise, “Tommaso” is worth a look for the Rome locations and the burnished widescreen cinematography of Peter Zeitlinger. Above all it’s a showcase for Dafoe, who continues a remarkable late-career run (“The Florida Project,” “The Lighthouse”) in which that indisputable face, lined with dissolution and care, seems carved onto the promontories of the movies in which he appears. (The film will be available as a virtual screening through the Coolidge Corner Theatre’s website at coolidge.org, and Dafoe will be “present” for a Zoom Q&A on Sunday, June 7, at 2 p.m.)


William Dafoe and Anna Ferrara in "Tommaso."Courtesy Kino Lorber.

The rest of the cast of “Tommaso” seems largely made up of non-professionals, including the hero’s fellow twelve-steppers telling tales of rock-bottom and renewal; a loud drunk (Hassan Khan) with whom Tommaso argues and then befriends; the Italian teacher (Maricla Amoriello) he flirts with; and the shopkeepers and neighbors who are presumably Ferrara’s own. Chiriac is appealingly amateurish as the girlfriend, a new mother trying to hold onto her free spirit, but this is her husband’s movie, not hers.


As such, it’s a glossy, overlong, intermittently arresting tour of an aging artist’s fears and fancies as his wild ways are domesticated. True to Ferrara, the violence that broods within all of his messed-up macho heroes — and Tommaso is no exception — eventually fights its way to the surface, after which the director caps this poison-pen diary entry with an image that harks back to one of Dafoe’s most famous roles while serving as one final, outrageous display of ego. No one has to crucify Abel Ferrara — he’ll do it himself.



Written and directed by Abel Ferrara. Starring Willem Dafoe, Cristina Chiriac. “Virtual screening” available through the Coolidge Corner Theatre. In English, Moldovan, and Italian, with subtitles. 117 minutes. Unrated (as R: language, nudity, sexual situations, violence, disturbing archival footage)