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Americano


Salma Hayek stripping isn't even the film's best element.

Rod Lott October 22nd, 2012

Mathieu Demy's Americano opens with a little death, followed immediately by a big one, as Frenchmen Martin (Demy) receives one of those middle-of-the-night phone calls that deliver the worst of bad news: His mother has died.

americano

Jetting to Los Angeles where she lived — and where he grew up for a few years until his father took him back to France, and where he hasn't visited for five years — Martin plans on a quick trip to sign paperwork and put her condominium on the market. He doesn't count on his mother leaving something behind to an enigmatic former neighbor, Lola (Salma Hayek, Savages), now a stripper/prostitute in a club just over the Tijuana border. That begins a journey with more than enough kink.

For Demy, filmmaking is in the genes. He's the son of Jacques Demy (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) and Agnès Varda (Vagabond), both seminal directors in cinema's French New Wave. One interesting touch employed by the younger Demy is using scenes from one of his mother's films, 1981's Documenteur, as the flashbacks in Americano; thus, Demy is able to play Martin both as a grown man and an innocent child. The two time periods fit together like pieces of a puzzle, connecting with a pleasing snap.

Obviously, Demy learned a lot from his parents; so much of Martin's being is communicated through purely visual moments — to a point where the story could not be told as effectively in another medium. I think in particular of Martin digging through his mom's belongings, and stumbling upon a pad of stickers that once was his. A scratch-and-sniff sticker — once scratched and sniffed — is all the trigger his emotional faucet needed to open in full; for the first time, we see him grieve.

I also think of Martin confirming his mother's body at the morgue; her lifeless corpse lie in the background, yet shot deliberately out of focus — as much a mystery to us as she has become to him. Like many movies, once Martin solves that “mystery,” Americano no longer possesses as strong a hold. For those two-thirds, however, it is a strong, moving effort. —Rod Lott

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