Quietly spoken, introverted Henry 'Hank' Chineski (Charles Bukowski's alter ego) tries to get casual jobs (anything, like a factotum) around Los Angeles just to survive, in between his prime activity of writing, but his heart isn't in the job thing. He lets the ice in the ice delivery truck melt, and his drink driving record goes against his taxi driver application. With a drink never out of reach and women and/or gambling to distract him, Hank finds the going tough.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Bent Hamer's Kitchen Stories (2003) is one of those marvellously sparse, Scandinavian films that is at once minimalist and yet textured, full, taut and starkly humorous. That same mood is captured here in the down and out story of a writer who reads too many rejection slips, drinks too much and teeters on the edge of survival.
Matt Dillon's reserved, internalised performance is a standout, embellished by his sometimes confronting, sometimes intimate narration, with a melancholy soundtrack filling up the cracks where hope threatens to shine through. The subject matter was previously explored in Bukowski's own script for Barfly (1987), starring Micky Rourke and directed by Barbet Schroeder, which screened in Competition at Cannes. That is a showier film; this is a more muted affair, and dryer.
In that rare moment of his life that Hank gets lucky on horses and he upgrades with a new wardrobe and a cleaner style, it's as if he's gained the world but lost his soul, as Jan (a terrific Lily Taylor) points out to him. But we're soon back, off Easy Street and into the darker lanes of his life as the film simply comes to an end - without an ending, but with that haunting refrain of a life still in development, like his writing.
The honesty of the work is nowhere better demonstrated than at the moment Hank faces one of his many ex-employers, wanting his severance cheque, explaining he just wants the money so he can go and get drunk, he adds, "That may not sound noble ..., but it's my choice."
Review by Louise Keller:
Based on the novel by Charles Bukowski, Factotum is a wonderfully quirky and black story about a would-be writer who supports his love affair with the bottle and women by adventure. We meet Matt Dillon's Henry 'Hank' Chinaski in a bar. 'I've been asleep longer than you've been alive,' he is told by one barfly, in a good example of the wry dialogue. Hank looks for a job - to get a taxi licence, in a bike repair shop, in a pickle factory. When he applies for a job as a journalist, he is asked to come onboard not to write, but to clean a tall marble statue. Hank's adventures in this road movie are punctuated by the people he meets along the way. The directions Hank takes are certainly not signposted or predictable. Everything is a surprise.
There's Jan (Lili Taylor), the blonde who shares his love for the bottle. They drink plenty and have sex four times a day. Then there's Marisa Tomei's Manny who he meets in a bar. He buys her a drink with his last dollar, prompting her to ask if he has somewhere to sleep. Of course this leads to a bed for the night, and a glimpse into her life. She lives with wealthy Frenchman Pierre (Didier Flamand), who habitually picks up pretty girls and takes them home. There's the colleague with whom Henry goes to the racetrack and the drunk clutching a brown paper bag. But these relationships come and go easily.
Watching Matt Dillon, I was occasionally reminded of a young Jack Nicholson. This is the kind of role that would have suited Nicholson. And it suits Dillon down to the ground. There's little to recommend Hank, but Dillon delivers the character warts and all with such acceptance of his flaws, that we warm to him unequivocally. Reminiscent of Bogart's Philip Marlowe, the inner voice compelling him to write is strong.
Like Bent Hamer's charming 2003 film Kitchen Stories, Factotum is about relationships. Decidedly enjoyable with bittersweet touches around the edges, it is never played for laughs, although I do remember the chuckles were audible throughout the Directors' Fortnight screening at Cannes, where I saw the film. Dillon was also in attendance, obviously proud of his performance.
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FACTOTUM (US/Norway, 2005)
CAST: Matt Dillon, Lili Taylor, Fisher Stevens, Marisa Tomei, Didier Flamand, Adrienne Shelly, Karen Young, Tony Lyons
PRODUCER: Bent Hamer, Jim Stark
DIRECTOR: Bent Hamer
SCRIPT: Bent Hamer, Jim Stark (novel by Charles Bukowski)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: John Christian Rosenlund
EDITOR: Pal Gengenbach
MUSIC: Kristin Asbjornsen
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Eve Cauley
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Aztec International
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 15, 2006