A Painful Portrait of a Beggar and a Gentleman

in 39th Toronto International Film Festival

by Marco Lombardi

It’s not easy to find a movie that is able, at the same time, to touch both cinephiles and general audiences. When it happens we can say it is a well balanced film that challenges both our mind and our emotions. Time Out of Mind is such a “universal” movie, living in a land everybody can enter.

The subject is not comfortable at all: it tells about a beggar who is almost a normal person as he’s polite and calm (just once he shouts, but at himself, not at the world). This is the first great choice of the film: that man who has lost everything (house, job, family) doesn’t present himself as a victim, so we can decide to stay with him or turn against him. We just try to understand, with no prejudices. We try to “feel” him without being influenced by an overwhelming barrage of “good” feelings due to our obligation to be compassionate. Even if he obtains money by selling his suits and doesn’t know where to sleep, he carries himself with dignity, as many common people do. In other words, because of his normal behavior when we look at him we look at ourselves in the mirror. It means — and that’s the tough aspect of the film — that each of us could fall into similar depths.

During the movie we slowly discover his reasons: after his wife’s death, he lost his job and his house. Then he lost the persistence to keep his 12 years old daughter, leaving her with her maternal grandmother. At last, he lost the desire to live. As alcoholics do, he drinks to forget who he is, wandering every day in the New York streets. Police and hospitals try to help him, and this is another unconventional aspect of the film, as it would have been much easier to describe the public authorities as the purveyors of his downfall. On the contrary, the beggar says to himself “I’ve fucked myself up, I’ve fucked myself up”.

Everything changes when he is taken in by a (very realistic) shelter that looks like prison, but is at least a place to stay. He’s not used to the others anymore, but he starts having a real relationship with a verbose person that becomes his anchor. The beggar re-learns the necessity of living with others, despite the strain of having people that you “have” to understand and support. That’s why, when his friend is chased away from the shelter because he quarrels with a policeman, he realizes that he does need other people. He can’t stand to be alone anymore. Above all, he cannot help needing his daughter who seems to hate him but in fact needs him. When they meet she always disregards him as we usually do with beggars, but when — in the last scene — her father enters the bar where she works and shows his birth certificate (just to say “I do exist and I’m here”, implementing his friend’s sentence), her reaction is different. The film closes with a marvelous framing that is similar to the ending of Blue Is the Warmest Color (La vie d’Adele), conjuring a Nouvelle vague atmosphere.

Oren Moverman’s Time Out of Mind is a fiction film, but it has a deep sense of realism that makes the story seems like a documentary. Above all the film is its main actor, Richard Gere, who courageously risks his career — as the main character does with his life. The sex symbol of yesterday turns himself into an old, tired, fat, alcoholic, lonely man. The ex-“officer” becomes a beggar while still a “gentleman”, showing himself as very human. He doesn’t act. He’s real as the film itself thanks to a very good direction that will surely receive more important awards than the FIPRESCI award. Bobby Bukowski’s cinematography is also very courageous because it doesn’t emphasize the roughness of this very rough and authentic story, as is the case in too many insincere films. The aesthetic choice here is respectful of the human drama.

Steve Buscemi, who in the beginning chases the beggar away from a deserted house, is a bitterly ironic note as he represents those “successful” people who exclude beggars in every day life.

Edited by Yael Shuv