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Friday, August 17, 2012 - Page updated at 10:00 p.m.
'Americano': Unraveling family secrets after a mother's death
By A. O. Scott
The New York Times
It would be quite possible, based on its first 10 minutes or so, to dismiss — or perhaps to celebrate — "Americano" as an exercise in cinematic nepotism. The main character, Martin, is played by Mathieu Demy, who also directed (this is his first feature) and who is the son of two great French filmmakers: Agnès Varda and Jacques Demy. Martin's girlfriend, Claire, is played by Chiara Mastroianni, daughter of Catherine Deneuve and Marcello Mastroianni. When a family emergency summons Martin to Los Angeles, the first person he meets is a woman named Linda, played by Geraldine Chaplin, whose pedigree hardly needs elaboration.
Demy renders Martin's memories of his California childhood by incorporating scenes from Varda's 1981 film "Documenteur," in which he played a small, wide-eyed boy, also named Martin. "Americano" is thus something of a sequel, in which certain moods and implications of Varda's film — the loneliness that can seem almost like a geographical fact of American life, the distance that can invade even the most intimate relationships — are revisited and revised.
After the death of his mother (Sabine Mamou), Martin flies to California to settle her modest estate, with help from the chatty, chain-smoking Linda. He wants to take care of business quickly but finds himself drawn into aspects of his mother's life that he knew nothing about.
A mysterious envelope, arriving at his mother's address stamped "return to sender," is the first bread crumb on a trail that leads him to a desolate trailer park and then to Tijuana, Mexico, in search of a woman named Lola. The Lola he finds — who may or may not be the Lola he seeks — works as a stripper and a prostitute in a nightclub called Americano. Though her interest in Martin is limited, this Lola (Salma Hayek) engages him, for a fee, in vague, intense conversations about his mother.
"Americano" is a film of modest ambitions — it does not strive for greatness or novelty — but it demonstrates unassuming self-assurance and an admirable willingness to take formal and emotional risks in pursuit of a complicated and elusive truth.
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