Director: Mathieu Demy
Screenwriter: Mathieu Demy
Cast: Mathieu Demy, Salma Hayek, Geraldine Chaplin, Chiara Mastroianni, Carlos Bardem
Screened at: Review 2, NYC, 5/30/12
Opens: June 15, 2012
You don’t have to be Jewish or Catholic to feel sizable guilt upon the death of your parents. Memories of childhood crowd out events occurring in your daily routines as you wonder whether you could have done more or perhaps bothered them less with demands, or maybe even wonder whether you did the right thing to move away at a distance sufficient to cause a deep-seated estrangement.
Such is the case with freshman director and co-star Mathieu Demy, whose “Americano” focuses intently on the middle-aged man, Martin (Mathieu Demy), at an impasse with his girlfriend Claire (Chiara Mastorianni). She wants a baby. He’s not sure. His father (Jean-Pierre Mocky) notes that kids are a pain in the butt. When Martin was eight years old, his dad took him away to the latter’s native France, assuring the boy that his mother was a chronically depressed woman who would scarcely be aware that her family had left her back in California.
“Americano” is not only a study of loss and memory but is a particular homage to Demy’s filmmaker parents, Jacques Demy and Agnès Varda. In fact the director uses actual film, “Documenteur,” shot in 1981 by his real-life mother, of himself at the age of eight, frightened at the thought of losing her. Demy frequently cuts back to childhood scenes that bear at least a remote resemblance to his current situation as a thirty-nine year old man obsessed with fulfilling her mother’s final wish as embodied in her will.
After flying from Paris to L.A. to dispose of his mother’s belongings in Venice, CA, he is met at the airport by one of his mother’s friends, Linda (Geraldine Chaplin), herself a pain in the butt who orders the man around, insisting that he go right to the morgue to fill out the needed forms. When he discovers in her mother’s letters that she would like to leave her condo to one Lola (Salma Hayek), a Mexican from across the border in Tijuana who had befriended her, he drives his Mustang to that dilapidated and dangerous border town in search of the woman. Encountering Lola in a strip joint where she works the pole and turns tricks, he listens as she hesitatingly tells him what he wants to hear—that his mother had always loved him and missed him when he left her to live in Paris. He is at first welcomed to the Club Americano by its manager, Luis (Carlos Bardem), who after putting up with several visits to see Lola turns violently against the seeker.
For a good deal of time Martin appears to travel the streets of Tijuana in a dream-like state, alienated from the surroundings, baffled by Lola’s growing indifference, wondering how he will ever get the chance to at least make up partly for his feelings that he was not there for his mother. Much of the film is slow-moving but here are moments of violence and epiphanies in this psychological study of a man unmoored, a man who (in real life as Mathieu Demy) seems also to be trying to show that he is honoring his parents by setting his own course in the profession they’d apparently have wished for him. Oh, an Hayek is gorgeous.
Unrated. 106 minutes © 2012 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B