In equal parts haunting and unsettling, America Latina is the disarmingly honest portrayal of a man who’s trying to find out who he is in a world that’s spinning out of control.
How do I even begin to describe a film whose deliberate ambiguity makes it just as brilliant as it is upsetting, with a complex, enigmatic leading character who partially remains a mystery to us even after the credits roll? Fabio and Damiano D’Innocenzo took the world by storm with Silver Berlin Bear winner Favolacce (Bad Tales) in 2020, and now they’re back with a daring, exquisitely multilayered story that echoes the work of Yorgos Lanthimos and Bong Joon-ho, but that is also unmistakenly Italian, drenched in a culture that values appearances over truth and that isolates you to a point that you don’t even know who you are anymore. America Latina is not a film for everyone, and it’s bound to divide audiences not only for its narrative structure but also for the bleakness of the situation it depicts. But it’s also an accurate portrayal of our times that deconstructs its incredibly human characters one layer at a time, leaving us with an aftertaste but also with room for hope and redemption.
America Latina is the story of Massimo Sisti (Elio Germano, of Favolacce and Volevo Nascondermi), a sympathetic dentist who lives in Latina, south of Rome, with his wife, Alessandra (Astrid Casali, of Romanzo Siciliano) and his two daughters, Laura (Carlotta Gamba) and Ilenia (Sara Ciocca). It’s amost an idyllic existence that Massimo leads: he runs his own studio, he’s well-liked by his workmates and clients, and he has a good relationship with his family, with whom he lives in a villa that he owns, outside of town. After work, Massimo often meets up with his friend Roberto (Filippo Dini, of Into The Labyrinth), with whom he shares a beer and talks about his day; in the evening, he spends time with his wife and kids, leading a healthy, rewarding life that he has built for himself, and that helps him forget about his neglectful father and the trauma that originated from the dynamics between them. But on an ordinary day, Massimo makes a shocking discovery that turns his life upside down, initially causing him to doubt and mistrust every single person he knows and making him feel unsafe in his own home, and ultimately leading him to look inwards, searching for answers in the the most hidden parts of his own identity until he realises that something isn’t quite right, and the truth hits him with the force of a hurricane.
To reveal anything else about what happens in America Latina would ruin your experience of watching the film, as part of what makes it so deeply affecting and disquieting (but also human and heartbreaking) is getting to deconstruct the many layers of Massimo’s identity by yourself, in a puzzle that gets more and more complex as the film goes on, until certain things are discovered, but, in the best D’Innocenzo brothers tradition, many remain unsaid. And, even if the structure of the film’s screenplay isn’t as deliciously intricate as works by directors like Yorgos Lanthimos, the tone certainly is, with Massimo’s house becoming a character in itself, and a prison of Massimo’s own creation that keeps him and his family confined in an apparently ordinary world that hides its most disconcerting secrets in plain sight. Yet, it’s the dynamics between the characters themselves that make the film so compelling, starting with an exquisitely human protagonist that we can’t help but sympathise with, and relate to, from the moment he first appears until the end credits roll.
If America Latina‘s carefully constructed screenplay and immersive camerawork enable us to familiarise with every aspect of Massimo’s life, from his daily habits to his internal struggles, and really feel for him as the story progresses, it’s Elio Germano‘s exceptional performance that makes the film so highly affecting on an emotional level. As a series of events take a turn for the absurd and quickly spiral out of control, we are always able to find humanity in Massimo, a character that is certainly flawed but that we never judge. Thanks to the raw emotion conveyed by Germano in every single scene of the film, we’re always able to see Massimo first and foremost as a confused human being who’s looking for the truth, just as we are. Equally important in the film are Massimo’s wife—the only person who can see right through him, even when he can’t do so himself—and daughters, who not only act as reflections of Massimo’s self, but also keep him grounded to reality. Astrid Casali in particular is flawless as Alessandra, conveying both innocence and understanding and effortlessly switching between tones to fit the mood of key scenes in the film. The D’Innocenzo’s women are both judges and saviours in this film, offering a good dose of reality but also showing us that it’s never too late to ask for help; at the same time, America Latina‘s journey is first and foremost an intimate, character-centric journey that Massimo needs to take on his own, and we are right there with him as he does.
Though certainly divisive in its approach to its controversial themes, America Latina is also a film whose ambiguity is precisely what makes it so psychologically fascinating and complex, allowing for plenty of introspective moments and making good use of its central mystery to keep us engaged throughout. Both an earnest meditation of life and an unapologetically authentic character study, Fabio and Damiano D’Innocenzo’s latest film is just as disarming, captivating and unsettling as it needs to be, making for haunting storytelling that will stay with you long after the credits roll.
America Latina premiered in competition at the 2021 Venice Film Festival on Thursday, September 9, 2021. The film was released in Italian cinemas in November.