Tony Driver (2019) *** Visions du Reel 2020

April 27th, 2020
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Ascanio Petrini; Documentary with Tony Driver; Mexico/Italy 2019, 73 min.

Another Travis Bickle comes to life here in this documentary debut from Ascanio Petrini. Playing out with all the pomp of a Hollywood movie, it tells the story an Italian immigrant who reached his promised land of America as a child, only to be sent home after a life of petty crime and misdemeanour.

Pasquale was born in Bari in 1963, and emigrated with his family in 1972 to Chicago. There he became Tony, marrying Susan and having two children. After the break-up of their marriage in 1999, Tony joined his sister in Yuma, Arizona, where he re-invented himself as a taxi driver under the name of Travis Bickle. Money was short and he moonlighted as a ‘guide’, helping Mexican’s to cross the border. In 2012, an arrested led to the discovery that he had no American Citizenship, he had just kept renewing his Green Card for the past forty odd years. The authorities gave him a choice: imprisonment in Arizona, or expulsion from the country of his dreams. He chose the latter, ending up in the Adriatic town of Polignano a Mare.

There is not really much documentary in this feature, more a re-telling of Tony’s story – and his overriding desire to get back to the US and shed his Pasquale identity for good. There are a few secondary characters of note, such as the priest Gaetano. The film crosses the limits of documentary more than once: there is a scene where Tony phones his sister in Yuma, and we see both heads talking. But it fits in well with the bizarre story of a man who is by all intents and purposes, an American, but has to live like an Italian – at least until 2022 when he is legally allowed to re-enter the country. Tony does not belong to a country with laws – his America is that made of the movies. In a way, he has been written out the script. His memories are framed in shots belong to the cinema of Hollywood. The colours could be from any Wenders movie shot in the US – after all, the German director was also a foreigner who tried to become an American. Suddenly, we are in a Mexican border town, where Tony buys the outfit for his illegal re-entry. A taxi brings him near to the border wall, a much tougher cross than eight years earlier. There are mention of immigrants making the US great, and then Tony runs towards what can only be a chimera, accompanied by Woody Guthrie’s This Land is Your Land. 

Tony Driver is an absurdist dream: a fusion of two personalities which are artificially divided: Tony being the hero of his own movie, in denial about the reality of a situation he will fall victim to all over again. There are also shades here of The Last Picture Show, even though DoP Mario Bucci’s have more contrast than the washed-out black-and white photography of the Bogdanovich feature. But we know who will be the loser in this cinema vs. reality race – Tony is a latter day Wile. E Coyote. AS

VISIONS DU REEL 2020  

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