How happy are we when get what we seek? We may work for it for an entire life, and when we obtain it, the joy of the effort seems lost. It’s always what we don’t have, what is expected of us and can’t live up to that comes back to haunt us.
Massimo Sisti (Elio Germano) has the perfect life. He’s the titular owner of a dental practice, he has wonderful family, a wife and two beautiful daughters that love him, he has a magnificent isolated villa in the outskirts of Latina, an area of Italy that was once a swamp and made habitable by the Fascist Regime. Massimo finds himself in his own swamp when, one day, he goes in the basement to get a new lightbulb, and all of a sudden, his life falls apart.
Fabio and Damiano D’Innocenzo had their major splash into Italian cinema with Favolacce (Bad Tales), a harrowing tale on suburban life in Rome that won the Best Screenplay award at the 2020 Berlin Film Festival. They go back to the suburbs with America Latina, filmed, edited and presented at the 78th Venice Film Festival. Very few details were released during the summer in anticipation for their bowing at the Lido, and many were curious about the follow-up to what was a critical success for the brothers. The result of this expedited production is a big disappointment.
Born out of the desire to tell a dark, twisted family love story, America Latina (a cheeky title that refers to Latina, the film’s setting and America, the symbol of suburban dream, with its iconic white picket fence houses) is a film that never finds its ground. It’s a thriller, it’s a family drama, it’s a character study, it’s a study on toxic masculinity. It’s all these things and at the same time it is none of them. Many of the film’s scenes defeat the suspension of disbelief required to get into a story like this, and the tonal palette is a confusing mess: scenes that are supposed to generate anguish or anxiety fall completely flat or come across as straight out ridiculous. It doesn’t help that the movie is shot as a gritty crime thriller: dull, lifeless colors, terrible ominous music just make the problem worse, in a plot that is entirely predictable and with poor-written characters. Sometimes it feels as if Fabio and Damiano D’Innocenzo were aiming at making a Haneke kind of film without understanding why his movies work. The film also squanders a committed performance by the ever reliable Elio Germano who, despite his laudable efforts, can’t save the movie from itself.
Watching America Latina occasionally gives the awful feeling of witnessing a train wreck. Fabio and Damiano D’Innocenzo sped through production to make it in time for the 2021 Venice Film Festival. Maybe taking their time with it would have been a better idea.
This review is from the Venice Film Festival. There is no U.S. distribution at this time.