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Fac•to•tum [fak-toh-tuhm]
1. A person, as a handyman or servant, employed to do all kinds of work around the house.
2. Any employee or official having many different responsibilities.

In this adaptation of the work of famed author Charles Bukowski, Matt Dillon stars as Hank Chinaski, the fictional alter-ego of Bukowski, who wanders around Los Angeles trying to live off odd jobs which don't interfere with his primary interest, which is writing. Basically he drinks and loses each job due to his drinking. His long time on and off girlfriend, Jan (Lili Taylor), offers little concession, and Hank wanders aimlessly through life.

The film Factotum is a cautionary tale. It cautions against the dangers of alcohol abuse. If you become an alcoholic, according to this film, you don't run the risk of beating your wife and children, but becoming a most boring and stereotyped person. The film also warns of the possibility of aimlessness. A lot. Over and over again the audience is shown the horrors of remaining idle, the terrors of mediocrity. Over and over. For 94 minutes we are cautioned. There are some heavy-handed jokes thrown in to keep us from screaming, but it's mostly about the cautioning.

I know next to nothing about author Charles Bukowski. I've never read any of his books or short stories, I've never gotten around to seeing Barfly, but if this film is any indication then I don't care to remedy myself of this ignorance. If I am to believe this fictional representation of Bukowski is a valid representation of the real life man, he's a self-pitying, self-important brat that only writes in the most trite and clichéd prose. Self loathing can make for a good read and good entertainment (just look at the work of Hunter S. Thompson), sometimes even great art, but here it's simply dull. I only hope that this is the failure of the film, and not its author, because I'd hate to judge to harshly that which I do not understand.

After finishing Factotum I scoured my DVD shelves to find a film more directionless and uneventful that I personally enjoyed. The closest I could come was the work of Jim Jarmusch, who tends to make movies about silence and everyday man's contemplation. The difference between Jarmusch's work (even his worst work) and what Factotum's Norwegian director Bent Hamer has achieved here is in the content. More specifically the fact that Jarmusch tends to actually have content, and though meandering, a final goal to his pictures. Jarmusch's characters are quirky enough to maintain even a basic interest during silent moments. Hamer and Bukowski characters are just uninvolving, depressing, and speak like 12 year old poets thinking aloud. Jarmusch also manages to come across as genuine, whereas Factotum is conceitedly preachy.

I'm pretty sure that Bukowski was an influence on Jarmusch, as both seem to belong to the post-beat, early punk art movements. I say pretty sure because I'm basing this on the little I know about Bukowski and his fans. I'm hoping that this was just a particularly poorly adapted representation of Bukowski, because the last thing I need is his fans drunkenly coming down on me. Well represented or not, Factotum is a lethargic mess masquerading as an 'important' indie flick.

The film is almost a parody, and scenes play out like Saturday Night Live skits making fun of the clichés of modern indie film. In one such scene Hank wakes up, runs to the bathroom and vomits, then returns to the bedroom and begins drinking. After a bit of nothing happening, Jan (the fact that Lili Taylor is basically the indie queen to end them all really helps this agenda, she could easily be the SNL guest host the week this hypothetical skit aired) follows suit, but decides to light up a cigarette, rather than taking a booze hit after relieving her stomach of its contents. After a few more minutes of nothingness, the two speak to each other like melodramatic tweens misquoting Shakespeare, and Hank leaves in what's suppose to be a tragic circumstance.

All the while the camera does not move. I could almost hear the director shouting from the rear channels, "Look, they wake up sick and go right back to their vices! They're trapped in their addictions and don't know how to communicate! It's funny and tragic! New York street cred now, please!".

A lot of people (read: critics) are raving about Dillon's performance, saying it's the best (sometimes only) reason to see the film. I'm really not all that impressed. Playing a dejected drunk who's mad at the world for not appreciating his genius just doesn’t strike me as all that hard. Dillon pulls this character off, to be sure, but his supporting cast seemed just as good. I give the most credit to Marissa Tomei as one of Hank's flings, but I've seen better out of her as well. I'm guessing the director's acting notes consisted of demanding nobody got a good night's sleep before filming.

Factotum was filmed in Minneapolis, Minnesota (not even close to looking like L.A., where the film supposedly takes place), whereby I live, so I was able to maintain a basic interest while looking for recognizable landmarks, but had I rented the film for personal viewing rather than watching it for a review I wouldn't have finished it. It was an endurance test from beginning to end, and the last 10 minutes were a massive insult to intellectual filmgoers the world over. The whole thing turns into a sort of ironic Disney inspirational film. The life lesson, in case you missed it throughout the rest of the film's 84 minutes, is: don't be a drunken lay about or life will pass you by. It's this kind of vapid banality that made me hate this film.



There isn't much in the way of visual splendour in Factotum. Most of the film is filmed in real-life settings rather than movie-made sets, so there is a dullness to the compositions. This is purposeful, and works in the context of the film, but it doesn’t make for a spectacular DVD transfer. There is quite a bit of film grain, but details are sharp without too much edge enhancement. I only noticed a few compression issues like low-level noise and digital blocking. Colours are well represented, but unfortunately dull. A very average transfer.


Excuse me, could you speak up? I still can't hear you. Everyone practically whispers their way through the film, and even at high volume levels it's hard to discern dialogue. The soundtrack is solid, with really deep and clean bass, but the rest of the film depends mostly on on-set audio, and is not aggressive or impressive. There is a cool effect in the sequences taking place within Hank's crummy apartment, where the neighbouring apartments' noises are recreated. Anyone who's lived in a building with thin walls will recognize the sound of muffled music and arguments. Like the video, overall a very average audio mix.



I'm torn here because I really didn't want to sit through any more of Factotum than I had to, but I really do want to learn more about Bukowski. The 30-minute making-of featurette concerns itself with director Hamer, and the film's production over the story's author. The featurette is a slyly disguised ad for the film, as is the norm with these things, but surprisingly not an English language ad. There's a bit to learn here, but not much. The only other features are a trailer and an ad for the CD soundtrack. Pretty weak. I suppose I'll have to rent Barfly and Live Through This someday.


I can't recommend this flick to anyone with the possible exception of die hard Bukowski fans. I've been told there are quite a few Easter Eggs thrown in for regular readers to enjoy. From my Bukowski ignorant point of view Factotum is an aggressively dull pile of nothing. And this is coming from a guy who gave Battle in Heaven, a real aimless film, a passing grade. The DVD has little in the way of extras, and the A/V quality is nothing impressive. For those not planning on watching the film, I'll reinstall the moral on behalf of the filmmakers: don't be aimless or your life will have no aim. Or something.