Director Carolina Cavalli’s Italian import Amanda opens with the titular twenty-something protagonist attending a film screening alone on a Saturday night. Standing outside of the theater, watching the other patrons standing in line, she details her crushing feelings of isolation in voiceover while simultaneously insulting the individuals before her, claiming that she would never want to befriend losers who would go to the movies by themselves on a Saturday night — even as she succumbs that very activity. This particular strain of self-aware (or -deluded?) narcissism — coupled with the deadpan delivery of the majority of the dialogue — might explain why Amanda has drawn inevitable comparisons to Wes Anderson’s works. But such a comparison is largely unfair, as Cavalli has created her own unique beast, one whose peculiar tics and rhythms signal a distinct artistic voice, even as the end result is far from perfect.
Amanda (Benedetta Porcaroli) is a young woman full of contradictions. She constantly bemoans the bourgeois lifestyle of her wealthy parents, yet has no issue accepting their full financial support as she traipses around her small Italian hometown, refusing to work. Her lone friend is her family’s 50-something housemaid, who regards Amanda as suffocating more than anything else. Her sister Marina (Margherita Missoni) views her as a spoiled brat (rightfully so), while her parents simply put up with her. It’s at the urging of her mother that Amanda visits former childhood friend Rebecca (Galatea Bellugi), who still lives at home due to crippling anxiety. Amanda responds and relates to the loneliness felt by Rebecca, yet takes the young girl’s refusal of friendship as a personal challenge.
Much of Amanda chronicles the tenuous relationship between these two young women, and the influence each one has on the other’s life in both positive and negative ways. Porcaroli, in the lead role, is an absolute powerhouse, both painfully relatable and utterly detestable, somehow managing to evoke a fair amount of empathy despite her exasperating presence. It’s the kind of performance that requires precise calibration, and Porcaroli miraculously never missteps. The same, however, can’t be said of the film’s narrative, which moves further into rote territory across its length. Amanda’s character arc offers little in the way of surprise, which is unfortunate for a lead protagonist this distinctly prickly, and the desire to sand away her edges feels antithetical to the character as introduced, perhaps signaling a filmmaker not entirely confident in her vision, even as Cavalli’s ruthless sense of humor — and obvious affection for her lead — would seem to counter such notions. Amanda — and, by extension, Amanda — deserves better than the maudlin trappings masquerading as edge come film’s end.
Still, it’s hard to go too hard at a film that introduces a potential love interest for the protagonist who, while describing his career path on their first date, states, “I hand out free condoms at festivals. It was always my dream.” It also, like so much else in this barbed character study, makes it near impossible to locate the line between sincerity and sarcasm. And then there’s the random moment where Amanda’s mother does a little dance to Juice Newton’s “Angel of the Morning,” which offers such a sublime, if only seconds-long, instance of physical comedy that it alone justifies the price of admission alone. Amanda is a film built on such singular moments, inconsistent in vision, yes, but communicating a clear perspective despite its flaws, and announcing Cavalli as one of the more exciting and distinctive film artists to arrive in the past few years.
Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 27