In his first feature length directorial debut, Mathieu Demy doubles up as leading man in Americano. Martin (Demy) is thirty-something, living in Paris, with a non-committal relationship with his girlfriend Claire, and a somewhat estranged relationship with his father. When he hears that his mother Emilie has died, he flies to LA to repatriate her body and sell her apartment. Upon his arrival, he’s confronted with his mother’s irritating best friend (Geraldine Chaplin), the fact that he never really knew his mother, and an arm-full of memories he thought he’d forgotten for good. Sorting through his mother’s possessions, Martin finds that she left her apartment to a woman named Lola, and Martin sets off to Mexico to find her. In an effort to forgive his mother, and to absolve himself for his own actions in the past, Martin endeavours to fulfil his mother’s wish.
Whilst most of the drama is based around family, the film squarely focuses on Martin, and what he thinks of the notion of his parents. They divorced when Martin was nine years old, his father returning to Paris, and he eventually joined him, leaving Emilie alone in LA. Americano explores the mother-son relationship, torn apart by distance and depression, as Martin tries to reconcile himself with his memories, and the memories that others have of the same time.
The memories from Martin’s time in LA come from Documenteur (1981), a film that his mother Agnes Varda made. It’s aged, grainy, and true to life and adds a very enjoyable and authentic aspect to the film. The importance of memories and misremembering are very important in Americano, especially when it comes to Lola (Hayek), Martin’s one-time neighbour who, in his absence, Emilie took under her wing. Martin is so desperate to regain this connection with his past that who Lola is as a person doesn’t really matter, it’s his and his mother’s memories that count, and what he can do to bridge the gap to the present.
Americano is a well made film, it looks great. From the grainy memories, to the dark and moody strip club where nothing is as it seems, Demy has thought through his scenes and paid attention to every minute detail. The script unwinds slowly, saving the twists until the end. They aren’t particularly surprising, especially due to Martin’s series of rash decisions, but they are satisfying and add to the depth of this redemptive tale.
Enjoyment of Americano really hinges on how you connect to Martin as the lead character. If you empathise and root for him, then Americano will be a sure fire hit with you. However, I found it difficult to have sympathy with him. He created all of his own problems, and often seemed immature and selfish. At times, I wanted nothing more than for someone to take him by the collar and shake some sense into him. But no one did, even when he missed his own mother’s funeral so he could chill with a stripper in Tijuana. Demy gives a strong performance, but I couldn’t find anything in Martin to connect with or really enjoy watching. Salma Hayek was great as Lola, cold, ruthless, and manipulating. She’s believable taking advantage of Martin, and such a piece of work that you don’t want her to come out on top either.
Americano is an interesting piece of cinema. It looks great, and is well made, but the story didn’t draw me in and the characters lacked the emotional pull that would have kept me invested. I wanted to like it more than I did, but I’m confident that others will love it in the way it deserves.
Americano is showing at the BFI London Film Festival on the 14th and 15th October