Movie review: “Ask the Dust”

The 2006 film “Ask the Dust” (Wikipedia) is based on the 1939 book of the same title by John Fante, with many of the events apparently autobiographical. The movie was filmed in South Africa, with Tom Cruise being one of the producers. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a particularly good movie.

Arturo Bandini (played by Colin Farrell) is a writer. Well, more a wannabe writer, as he’s only had one short story published at the start of the movie. He arrives in Los Angeles sometime during the Great Depression in America (1929 to sometime in the 1930s or 1940s), and rents a room in a hotel for several weeks (months?). He is struggling to write his next story, and there are frequent scenes of him clacketing away on his manual typewriter, before ripping out the page and crumpling it up in disgust.

One day, down to his last nickel, he goes to a restaurant, where he meets Camilla Lopez (played by Selma Hayek). She is a Mexican waitress who wants to become a fully-fledged American citizen, which for her means marrying an American – and preferably one who is white and does not have a foreign-sounding name. She is both attracted to and repulsed by Arturo, who does not fit her image of the ideal husband. Arturo seems to feel the same way, alternating between gazing lustfully at her, and making snide and vicious remarks.

The rest of the movie is about the relationship that develops between them, very much in fits and starts.

Quite frankly, I found it difficult to like the two lead characters. For the first half of the movie, Arturo was incomprehensibly rude and mean to Camilla, and I couldn’t figure out why she didn’t simply tell him to get stuffed. The love-hate relationship between them felt unrealistic, and it was a relief when they finally stopped bitching and snapping at each other and ‘got it together’ – although they had to leave the city and drive to beautiful Laguna Beach to do so.

For me, the nicest part of the movie was the unexpected delightful appearance of Jeremy Crutchley (whom we’d recently seen in the play “I am my own wife”), as the barkeeper Solomon. He helps out Arturo, when he is being pursued by a young, beautiful (but very wounded, as she says herself) Jewish housekeeper called Vera Rifkin. With a playfully conspiratorial smile, he helps Arturo to escape via the back entrance of his bar. Honestly, I wish he’d been given a bigger role in the movie.

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