‘America Latina’: Film Review | Venice 2021

In the latest from the D’Innocenzo Brothers, Elio Germano stars as a well-heeled dentist whose spiraling paranoia and self-disgust poison his bourgeois oasis in an exurban wasteland.

The cryptic title of the third feature from Italian twin brothers Damiano and Fabio D’Innocenzo, America Latina, refers not to that region but to a small city south of Rome, founded by the Fascist administration of the 1930s on reclaimed swampland. The creeping rot of that setting seeps into the Mediterranean version of the American Dream carefully constructed by the filmmakers’ protagonist, a middle-aged dentist whose seemingly perfect life — loving wife, two beautiful daughters, an architectural jewel of a home — is built on crumbling foundations. But for all its high style and aestheticized visuals, this is a work of self-conscious posturing with nothing to say.

Following their 2018 debut Boys Cry, in which two friends are pulled into the Roman underworld, and their 2020 follow-up about suburban alienation, Bad Tales, the siblings somewhat grandly billed as the D’Innocenzo Brothers continue to demonstrate impressive technique. The problem is that it constantly draws attention to itself. There’s something inescapably off-putting about a midlife existential crisis viewed through an immature gaze.

America Latina

The Bottom Line

Empty virtuosity.

Venue: Venice Film Festival (Competition)
Cast: Elio Germano, Astrid Casali, Sara Ciocca, Maurizio Lastrico, Carlotta Gamba, Federica Pala, Filippo Dini, Massimo Wertmüller
Director-screenwriters: D’Innocenzo Brothers

1 hour 34 minutes

Elio Germano, who played a sour dad in Bad Tales, returns as Massimo, who appears to have it all together. He runs an upscale dentistry studio and lives with his family in an airy villa away from the noise of the city, with a sweeping external staircase framing the swimming pool.

He sips beers in the sun and chews the fat with his buddy Simone (Maurizio Lastrico), though the Pinteresque pauses in their conversations suggest something a little off beneath the surface. Likewise the ethereal presences of his wife, Alessandra (Astrid Casali), and daughters Laura (Carlotta Gamba) and Ilenia (Federica Pala), their flowing dresses and hair seen through a gauzy haze that makes them look like refugees from a tampon commercial. Every ghostly glimpse of them is a fairly unsubtle hint of a framed family portrait seen through shattered glass.

The revelation that drives the film’s quasi-thriller vibe is a young girl (Sara Ciocca) found by Massimo, bruised, bound and gagged in his vast basement, surrounded by a carpet of trash. When he removes the gag, she screams with feral rage and terror, but he claims no knowledge of how she got there. Nor does he alert the authorities. Instead, he keeps her presence secret from his family and starts googling recent abductions, along with blackouts and memory loss. He also asks the bartender at his regular watering hole (Filippo Dini) to keep an eye on Simone for any suspicious behavior.

In a film that unfolds like a dark dream, the D’Innocenzos traffic heavily in misdirection. But even as the depths of Massimo’s despair become apparent — he’s off his game at work, dissolves into a crying jag after a hostile visit to his father (Massimo Wertmüller), succumbs to increasingly paranoid behavior at home — the writer-directors neglect to provide emotional access to him.

Massimo remains distant because so much of the filmmakers’ attention is lavished on distractingly show-offy stylistic flourishes. Seldom has a film made such extensive use of giant, full-face widescreen close-ups while revealing so little of its central character’s turbulent inner world — though that seems no fault of Germano. The actor dives head-first into an ambiguous morass of torment and confusion, even if his flashes of raw feeling have to compete with co-directors intent on treating him as an unknowable lost soul.

Cinematographer Paolo Carnera’s camerawork is highly controlled, and his use of skewed angles, bold color and light quite descriptive, while Walter Fasano’s editing instills jittery, off-kilter rhythms into Massimo’s unraveling. The score by Italian neo-psychedelic rock band Verdena plays with discordance and disquieting abstract sound in ways that sometimes recall Mica Levi’s work on Under the Skin. But tension is curiously absent.

I spent the film waiting for moments of illumination that just don’t come. Sure, there’s a domestic tragedy described on a TV newscast that makes Massimo spring to uncomfortable attention. And his interactions with the captive basement guest lead to a climax that more or less makes sense in narrative terms even if it’s a tad banal after so much buildup. But a reason to care about Massimo or even be curious about what caused him to lose control never emerges. The impression is of filmmakers imagining self-destructive desolation without ever having felt anything remotely like it.

Full credits

Venue: Venice Film Festival (Competition)
Production companies: The Apartment, Vision Distribution, in association with Le Pacte
Cast: Elio Germano, Astrid Casali, Sara Ciocca, Maurizio Lastrico, Carlotta Gamba, Federica Pala, Filippo Dini, Massimo Wertmüller
Director-screenwriters: D’Innocenzo Brothers
Producer: Lorenzo Mieli
Executive producer: Valeria Licurgo
Director of photography: Paolo Carnera
Production designer: Roberto De Angelis
Costume designer: Massimo Cantini Parrini
Editor: Walter Fasano
Music: Verdena
Casting: Gabriella Giannattasio, Davide Zurolo
Sales: Vision Distribution

1 hour 34 minutes