This drama centers on Hank Chinaski, the fictional alter-ego of "Factotum" author Charles Bukowski, who wanders around Los Angeles, CA trying to live off jobs which don't interfere with his primary interest, which is writing. Along the way, he fends off the distractions offered by women, drinking and gambling.
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Self-declared aspiring writer Hank Chinaski has neither qualifications, ambition nor ethics. Any dead-end job he lands is soon lost through laziness or mischief. His relationship with fellow deadbeat Jan gets strained to crisis through her insecurity, so he even gives up betting on horses which brought in easy money. Written by
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An excellent interpretation of Bukowski that truly captures the essence of his writing
Bent Hamer has become one of the most celebrated Norwegian directors of recent times that DIDN'T spawn from the Norwegian new wave that helped lift the average quality of Norwegian film production out of the quagmire it was in. He was one of the few who was worth keeping around of the previous generation, and one of the few who didn't need to be influenced by Detektor or Mongoland.
With titles such as Eggs (1995) and Salmer fra kjøkkenet (2003) he has long since established himself as a more than competent director with the ability of transferring emotion to film without losing credibility or affecting the narrative disfavourably. Factotum is no exception.
Factotum is the absolute opposite of the trend in Norwegian film making, the feel-good comedy wave that has swept the scene, and is quickly becoming redundant. If the scene does not renew itself and develop, Norwegian film making will end up the way it did pre-the new wave. Or then again, it mightn't. We still have Bent Hamer, and he has yet to make a film with Kristoffer Joner who, despite being one of our best actors, is also the most abused, appearing in pretty much everything that comes out. That is, with the exception of Hamer's work. Thankfully. May it stay that way. Bent Hamer might possibly be the best contemporary Norwegian director there is.
Now, regarding Factotum. Casting Matt Dillon, despite the critique this move has received, was a stroke of genius. Many feel he was wrongly cast (for instance, because he is not as ugly as Bukowski was. What the hell kind of argument is that, anyway?), but this truly is a misconception. Dillon manages to summon up the very essence of Henry Chinaski; his attitude, his stance, his walk - after seeing this film I doubt anyone else could ever play Chinaski again; never mind Barfly. Dillon looks atrocious; like a shadow of a former self, so marinated in alcohol and defeatist attitude that he can do nothing else in the world but indulge in these two sins. Oh, and live to write about it. This is not a pretty-boy who will melt teenage girls' hearts. This is low-life, urban white-trash America. This is Henry Chinaski. And what he does - in perfect harmony with Hamer's movie-making magic - is to convey that emotion so brilliantly well to the audience. I personally had previously only had three powerful resonance effects after films in the past (I suppose I am too jaded for it to be a generality): Requiem for a Dream and the two versions of Insomnia (the Norwegian Erik Skjoldbjærg-original with Stellan Skarsgaard, and Cristopher Nolan's remake, with what must be dubbed Pacino's greatest performance to date). The latter two made me feel like I hadn't slept for a week. Factotum made me feel like I had been drinking for a week. And I badly needed another drink when I came out of the theater. This is a truly amazing experience, and as far as I am concerned, a very rare event. This alone was worth watching the film. Woe unto the US if it is released directly on DVD - the American audience deserve to see it on the silver screen.
As far as the story goes, most of it follows Factotum pretty closely, with a few changes and updates (the story is set to modern day), with influences from a good selection of Bukowski's additional writing. As far as dubbing the book "the weakest" (ref. these forums) and wondering why Hamer and producer Jim Stark chose to filmatize this one out of the bunch, it is, in my observation, the book that best exemplifies Henry Chinaski, and thusly serves best as a cross-section of his existence. Post-Office or Women would have been too thematic, and Ham on Rye mainly details his upbringing. Factotum was the logical choice.
To close, I am not naming this the best film I have ever seen, or anything of the like, but it is still truly a masterpiece, a perfect rendition of slow-paced, low-life urbanity and alcoholism, and an excellent interpretation of Bukowski's writing. If you are lucky enough to see it in the theaters, you should do so - at least if you are a long-time fan, or only passing reader, of Bukowski.
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