J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Demy’s Americano

Considering Martin, the deeply depressed Frenchman, holds dual American citizenship, one would expect him to be a shrewder traveler.  Instead, he blunders through Tijuana asking for trouble.  He finds plenty in Mathieu Demy’s Americano (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Martin has issues with his estranged mother that now may never be resolved.  She has recently died after years in Los Angeles without contact.  Reluctantly, Martin flies out to dispose of the flat holds only unpleasant childhood memories for him.  However, family friend Linda paints a far rosier portrait of his childhood years.  Intrigued by references to his mother’s life-long confidante Lola, Martin heads south of the border in Linda’s Mustang convertible to track her down.

It turns out Lola is a stripper about his age, working as the featured act at the extra divey Americano club—a fine place for the French tourist to have his midlife crisis.  Martin wants insight into who his mother really was, but Lola does not want to talk.  She just wants his money.  Over and over again, characters have the opportunity to save themselves and others so much grief if they would just act reasonably.  Yet, each time they pass it up, which becomes dashed distracting.  Leave a vintage car parked on the Tijuana streets with your passport and cash in the trunk?  Sure, why not?

As the son of Jacques Demy and Agnès Varda, any film from director-screenwriter-lead actor Mathieu Demy will come loaded with expectations.  Clearly, the name Lola is no coincidence.  However, the younger Demy raises the stakes, incorporating entire scenes from his mother’s Documenteur, in which he appeared as a child actor, while also lifting George Delerue’s melancholy soundtrack themes.  While it positions Americano as a pseudo-sequel, it also highlights the contrast between it and the work of his parents.  At times, viewers can maybe possibly see some of humanistic solidarity of Varda’s The Gleaners and I in his depiction of the down-trodden Tijuana working poor, but that’s pushing it.

It must be like old Dusk Till Dawn times for Academy Award nominated Salma Hayek, once again playing a bordertown stripper.  At least her Lola is only a metaphorical vampire.  In truth, she ultimately plays the character with admirable sensitivity, yet that makes her early set-up scenes somewhat problematic in retrospect.  As Martin, Mathieu Demy is a bland screen presence leaving little lasting impression.

Despite its seedy setting, Americano is not aiming for cheap titillation.  Nonetheless, the sluggish pace makes the characters’ dubious decision-making all the more conspicuous.  Given its lineage, there will definitely be a constituency for this film hoping it will be better than it is.  Fatally underwhelming, it opens this Friday (6/15) in New York at the Landmark Sunshine.

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