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Tales of Ordinary Madness (Marco Ferreri: The Collection) - arthouse and international DVD / foreign language DVD / drama DVD review
Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America rating: 4 1/2 stars
Actors: Ben Gazzara, Ornella Muti, Susan Tyrell, Tanya Lopert, Roy Brocksmith
Director: Marco Ferreri   Distributor: Koch Lorber Films
DVD release: 19 August 2008   Runtime: 102 minutes
(1 disc of 8)
Format: Box set, Black & White, Color, Dolby, DVD-Video, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC
DVD Features: Audio Tracks (English - Dolby Digital 1.0), Subtitles, "Marco Ferreri: The Director Who Came From the Future," Marco Ferreri interview, 16-page booklet w/ critical essay by Italian film scholar Jacqueline Reich

In my first review from the eight-disc collection of the works of Marco Ferreri, I reviewed his most infamous work, La Grande Bouffe, a tale in which four middle-aged men commit group suicide by eating themselves to death. Tales of Ordinary Madness, which is based on the works of the L.A.-based cult poet Charles Bukowski, is similar in how it focuses on a middle-aged man whose self-destructive behavior combines with an intense desire to satisfy the passions of the flesh. However, while the protagonists of both films show an insatiable desire for sex, ToOM's Charles Serking (the name of the character, but obviously based on Bukowski himself), doesn't also crave food, but booze.

Unfortunately, the great love Serking's life is obviously alcohol (he flies into a violent rage when his ex-wife, Vicki, trying to help him, throws out his beer), yet it doesn't stop him from entering into a string of bizarre sexual relationships throughout the film.

The women are an odd assortment, nearly all of them just as lost and disturbed - if not more so - than Serking. For instance, while at the beach, he becomes enamored with a blonde (Susan Tyrell) who is rather homely yet still oddly sexually enticing. He follows her onto a bus, where they play a game of cat and mouse, with her leading him on and acting repulsed by him at the same time. Serking follows her to her apartment, where they have a disturbing sexual encounter in which Serking breaks in and "rapes" her - she tells him that she hoped he wouldn't lose his nerve and not attack her, then chillingly tells him: "I enjoy being raped." However, the blonde still calls the police on him, and he spends the night in lock-up. The next morning, she decides not to press charges. It is unlikely that Serking is the first victim of her game.

The main encounter - and most tragic - is with a beautiful prostitute named Cass (Ornella Muti), whom he befriends at his favorite watering hole. He quickly finds out that Cass is dangerously self-destructive; at the bar, she sticks a giant safety pin clear through both of her cheeks. She goes with him back to his room, where he reads to her some of his work. She also appreciates that he does not rush into sex with her. Indeed, Cass could have been the love of his life, yet life and their own self-destructive tendencies eventually get in the way (another act of self-mutilation on the part of Cass when she is convinced he is leaving her for good is both the most disturbing and sad part of this film).

Why are the women attracted to Serking? He is disheveled, poor, obviously a drunk, and prone to violent outbursts of rage (he chokes and slaps more than one of the women). Maybe one reason is that Serking never bullshits them. He is mostly brutally honest about himself and how he feels about them, good or bad. In one strangely moving moment, when he admits to one of the women that he made up a story, he bursts into tears. Also, since all the women seem wounded in some way, perhaps they find a kindred spirit in him. He and Cass seem indeed suited for one another, both wanting to forget their pasts.

The first and last encounters with women, in which he meets two beautiful but strange young nymphets, are perhaps the most surreal, and both strongly suggest they are occurring only in Serking's mind. Both also give a strong insight into the motivations of his art. In his final encounter on a beach, a young woman asks him where his poetry comes from. His response: "Show me your titties and I'll compose a poem for you" - a crude, vulgar response, to be sure, but also an honest one. Basically, his existence has boiled down to a daily quest for booze and sex, and they have become his muse.

From my review, you will likely surmise that this is a rough, crude and depressing film. It is. However, there is a strong undercurrent of honesty and beauty in it as well. All the shots, be they on a beach, at a bar, or on a seedy Hollywood street, are beautifully composed and lit. Like Bukowski's best work, the poems Serking reads aloud are rough yet also profound and undeniably from the heart. Finally, his romance with Cass is very moving. These are two lost souls who needed to find each other.

Bukowski (who only recently died) is still not well known, but he was an important and influential writer. He did indeed live among what he called the "real people": the demented, the defeated, and the damned. This film is not so much a biography of Bukowski as much as an interpretation of his very personal work. His story fits into the Ferreri canon, for he seems like a lost soul, wanting more out of life but ultimately defeated by his base desires.
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reviewed by Trent Daniel
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