Factotum

Factotum

Merely announcing that this film is based rather faithfully on a Charles Bukowski novel probably says all that needs to be said about Factotum, but if you're unfamiliar with the late writer's work, the film concerns Bukowski stand-in Henry Chinaski (nicely played by Matt Dillon) as an unrepentant drunk who gets fired from job after job as he drinks, slacks, gambles, has sex, and writes his short stories.

Like its protagonist, Factotum (the word means "one who has many activities") drifts along, aimlessly but amicably, and Dillon holds it all together, with a little help from Bukowski's carefully sculpted, mournful prose. Characters come and go, pursuits come and go, everything comes and goes, while Chinaski quietly observes and takes mental notes.

This sort of film is tailor-made for art house audiences who think that reading (or watching) Bukowski makes them cooler people, but unlike other "Bukowski-esque" pictures about rough trade slackers and drunks, the humor in here isn't the freak show smirk of the indie insider but the dry wit of the hopeless romantic.

Norwegian director Hamer, who also made the lovely Kitchen Stories in his home country, adapted the script with American producer Jim Stark, and both show a strong flair for finding the humanity in Bukowski's characters. Lili Taylor, as Chinaski's on-again, off-again girlfriend, is fine as usual, and Marisa Tomei is appropriately sultry in her few scenes. (She's that rare actress who becomes more appealing as she grows older.)

Hamer further infuses the film with Scandinavian flavor by shooting it on location in the rarely-filmed Minneapolis. It lends a freshness and an unpretentiousness that I think would have - ironically - been missing had the film been shot in Los Angeles, where Bukowski's novel actually takes place.

I must be careful not to overpraise Factotum: while I enjoyed it, it wasn't strong enough to have really stayed with me. Still, it's one of the better American independent features in a bleak 2006 (even if all the post production was done in Norway), and if you haven't been to your local art house cinema in some time and are looking for a reason to go, I submit this film as reason enough.