Two Italian racketeers come to Albania just after the fall of the communists to set up a fictive firm and pocket the grants. They need a stooge. They choose an old one in a jail : Spiro. ...
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Two Italian racketeers come to Albania just after the fall of the communists to set up a fictive firm and pocket the grants. They need a stooge. They choose an old one in a jail : Spiro. But the youngest italian, Gino, once alone with Spiro, encounter a few problems. Far from his roots, loosing his identity in deep Albania, he begins to change...Written by
I first saw 'Lamerica' at its British premiere at the Edinburgh film festival. After the screening, director Gianni Ameilo, a wonderful man in love with his own film, gave an effusive talk about how it had been made: how he had wanted for years to make a film about his father's emigration from post-war Italy to America, but chose, at the time of the Albanian refugee crisis in Italy in the 1990s, to tell the tale allegorically instead; how he cast amateurs in almost all the roles; how he plucked the amazing Carmelo de Mazzarelli from a Scicilian street to play the role of Michele because he to liked his face; and how he directed him, never showing him the full script but merely telling him what was required from each individual scene. This may be an unconventional style of film-making, but the result is triumphant.
'Lamerica' is both epic and comic, some elements bring to mind David Lean and others Mike Leigh (a feat otherwise only managed, in my opinion, by the films of Emil Kusturica). The acting is superb, the comedy dry, laced with sad irony (even the occasional Albanian mis-translation of Italian is inspired). At the centre of this film is a conventional road-movie, a story of an odd couple who bond; but it's put into a wider context by the extraordinary scenes, set in Tirana, that top and tail the movie: this film is political as well as personal, addressing not just the contemporary Albanian reality but also wider questions, such as racism and the relationship of the affluent west to the poorer world. But what stands out most of all is the remarkable visuals, both of the stunning Albanian landscape and also of the people: few directors make as much use of the widescreen format as Amelio, and the way he creates landscapes from faces so expressive they are almost fluourescent is in a class of its own. In some ways, he is almost too effective in doing so: the film feels manipulative because of the power of the images in making its point (and one wonders, can life in Albania really have been this bad?). This is a film that might almost be silent, the pictures tell the story. When, for example, Enrico la Verso's character drinks the milk, the significance of this simple act hits home with the force of a sledgehammer.
Now released on DVD, 'Lamerica', one of the least typical but best films of the 90s, is well worth seeking out. And even if (like me) you have to wait 9 years for a second viewing, I promise that its imagery will linger in your mind.
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