Barfly | Chicago Reader

Barfly

The first four letters say it all. Nostalgie de la boue—literally, “nostalgia for mud”—tends to motivate Barbet Schroeder's fiction films, which have focused on heroin addicts (More), hippies (The Valley Obscured by Clouds), masochists (Maitresse), and gamblers (Tricheurs). This 1987 treatment of flophouse drunks, his first American film, is no less voyeuristic. Working from an original and autobiographical screenplay by Charles Bukowski, Schroeder amasses a lot of talent to yield what is essentially a tourist's-eye view of the lower depths, defended from within as a way of life. An unshaven Mickey Rourke delivers his lines like W.C. Fields and swaggers like a gutter prince, Faye Dunaway as a fellow alcoholic seems even more authentically disassembled, and Robby Müller shoots them and their companions, along with neon and scuzzy interiors, with the patience of a Vermeer. But the net results are both self-consciously overdefined and unedifying. One imagines from the limited evidence offered here that Bukowski is both a better writer than the movie makes him out to be and a lightweight compared to Nelson Algren. Schroeder could have taken some useful lessons from Ivan Passer's all but forgotten 1971 movie about junkies, Born to Win. 97 min.

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