Martin (Mathieu Demy) is a thirty-something living in Paris and is in a slowly deteriorating relationship with Claire (Chiara Mastroianni). He receives the news of his mother’s death and his reaction is surprisingly unemotional, almost uncaring. He deals with the news in a matter of fact way and makes the decision to go to Los Angeles, where his mother Emilie lived, to sell the house that she lived in. Upon his arrival in LA Martin is met by his mother’s friend and carer Linda (Geraldine Chaplin) who is rather irritating and seems deeply affected by having to care for Emilie in her final days. Martin returns to his childhood home and slowly memories return and he begins to deal with the death of his mother. In an almost clinical manner he empties his mother’s house and prepares to deal with the legalities but finds out that his mother had another friend Lola, a young Mexican girl who Martin grew up with who his mother became fond of. It transpires that Emilie wanted Lola to have something when she died. So with only an old photograph and small snippets of information Martin steals Linda’s car and goes on a journey to Tijuana to find the grown up Lola (Salma Hayek) and ensure his mother’s dying wishes are granted.
The film is very much about Martin trying to find out who his mother really was and if she loved him, as Martin moved back to France with his father when he was young due to his mother’s supposed depression. We see a man struggling to come to terms with the death of a person who he should have been incredibly close to and yet he hardly knew and dealing with memories that he thought he had lost forever. Martin is a character who spends the film looking for answers from anybody he can get them from. The significant part of his journey, both physically and emotionally, occurs in the seedy underbelly of Tijuana, where Martin finds Lola working in a strip club called Americano.
I had high expectations for this film as Mathieu Demy who wrote, directed and stars in the film is the son of renowned filmmakers Jacques Demy and Agnes Varda. Also Varda was a producer on the film and sections from her film Documenteur (1981), in which Demy appears as the same character Martin, are included in the film as the flashbacks to childhood and Martin’s memories. Due to these high expectations I felt the film was quite disappointing, however as Demy’s first feature film it is a promising start and I feel that the film is perhaps a victim of anticipation.
Americano can be interpreted as an homage to the filmmaker’s parents and perhaps deliberately features other children of famous people with the daughter of Charlie Chaplin and daughter of Marcello Mastroianni and Catherine Deneuve both starring in the film. It is certainly reminiscent of the filmmaking of his parents and this may be enough for people to enjoy the film but for me it wasn’t. I found the character of Martin uneasy to identify with and felt he wasn’t particularly likeable, his actions often extremely selfish, although he does redeem himself towards the end of the film. Salma Hayek’s character was also not hugely likeable and this for me was a problem. Her striptease was also rather unerotic compared to the one in From Dusk til Dawn (1996) and perhaps that was the point but if a striptease by Hayek is boring then something is wrong.
This is clearly a personal film for Demy and perhaps that is the problem, like with Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere (2010) it looks great but there is just not enough to identify with and care about. Demy is a suitably handsome lead and his ability to portray grief in such a subtle and realistic manner is commendable. The story has depth but not enough, with no real revelations from the memories he recalls and not enough of a conclusion. The twist is predictable and whereas this may also have been deliberate it felt rather anti climatic.
However, although this film is not perfect there are some interesting aspects and it does manage to hold its own for the duration. It is enjoyable enough but unfortunately not overly distinct or memorable. There is strong acting throughout and the film is aesthetically pleasing but none of this makes up for the fact that the characters are not easy to identify with.
Writer/Director: Mathieu Demy
Cast: Mathieu Demy, Salma Hayek, Chiara Mastroianni, Geraldine Chaplin
Runtime: 105 mins