Director: Gianni Amelio
Production: Alia Film/Cecchi Gori Group Tiger. Color, 35mm, Cinemascope; running time: 120 mins. Released 1994. Filmed between August and December 1993, and in June 1994, in Albania.
Producer: Mario Cecchi Gori and Vittorio Cecchi Gori; screenplay: Gianni Amelio, Andrea Porporati, Alessandro Sermoneta; photography: Luca Bigazzi; editor: Simona Paggi; sound: Alessandro Zanon; music: Franco Piersanti; set designer: Giuseppi M. Gaudino; costumes: Liliana Sotira, Claudia Tenaglia.
Cast : Enrico Lo Verso ( Gino ); Michele Placido ( Fiore ); Carmelo di Mazzarelli ( Spiro ); Piro Milkani ( Selimi ); Elida Janushi ( Selimi's Cousin ); Sefer Pema ( Prison Warden ); Nikolin Elezi ( Boy Who Dies ); Artan Marina ( Ismail ); Besim Kurti ( Policeman ); Esmeralda Ara ( Little Girl ).
Best Director, Venice Film Festival; Felix Award, Best European Film;
Nastri D'Argento, Best Picture and Director.
Young, Deborah, in Variety (New York), 12 September, 1994.
Menashe, Louis, in Cineaste (New York), vol. 21, no. 4, 1995.
Maslin, Janet, in New York Times , 4 October 1995.
Carr, Jay, in Boston Globe , 20 December 1995.
Wilmington, Michael, in Chicago Tribune , 24 December 1995.
Crowdus, Gary and Richard Porton, "Beyond Neorealism: Preserving a Cinema of Social Conscience," in Cineaste (New York), vol. 21, no. 4, 1995.
Agovino, Michael J., "His Mind Fixed on the Moment, Eyes on the Past," in New York Times , 17 December 1995.
James, Caryn, "The Little Things Mean a Lot," in New York Times , 17 December 1995.
* * *
Gianni Amelio's L'America is a biting, profoundly moving drama that illustrates how the downtrodden of society, beneath the hoopla of political change and the redistribution of power, are fated to do little more than shift from one kind of exploitation to another.
The specifics of the scenario relate to the downfall of communism in Europe. The year is 1991, and Albania has been liberated from the iron hand of the hammer and sickle. The Albanian people are hungry and desperate; thousands of them are determined to make their way to Italy, where they hope to find employment. In the decades leading up to the events in the film, political dissidents in Albania were incarcerated in labor camps. One of them is seventy-year-old Spiro Milkami (Carmelo di Mazzarelli), a bedraggled, feeble-minded man who is ironically not Albanian but an Italian farmer who had deserted the army in the 1940s. Spiro becomes the pawn in a scheme concocted by two Italian businessmen, Gino (Enrico Lo Verso) and Fiore (Michele Placido), who plan to purchase a shoe factory, with the assistance of an unscrupulous government official, and set up a fraudulent corporation that will allow them to squeeze a fortune out of Albania's economic chaos. In order to observe the rules of privatization, an Albanian must be involved in the venture. Fiore has discovered Spiro, who seems the perfect tool and fool: a passive, mindless old man who can be fitted into a suit and paraded about whenever necessary. Confused and senile, Spiro is caught in a time warp: he thinks he is still twenty years old and is obsessed with returning to Italy, and to his wife, because it is time to harvest his olives. If she is not already dead, Spiro's wife is now an elderly woman—but in his mind she remains as young as when he last saw her.
The crux of L'America centers on the relationship between Spiro and Gino, the younger of the businessmen. Spiro escapes from the orphanage where he had been left by Gino and Fiore, and Gino sets out after him across the barren Albanian countryside. Along the way, this insolent young capitalist is stripped of his jeep and belongings— and even his clothing. He comes to know the feeling of poverty and statelessness and develops an affinity for the plight of the Albanian people, as well as sympathy for Spiro's hopeless quest. Gino eventually is arrested and jailed because of his alliance with the corrupt official. He has been deserted by Fiore, who has left the country. Gino's passport is impounded, and he finds himself one of the nameless, faceless masses of refugees desperate to reach Italy. At the finale, he and the ever-hopeful Spiro are reunited on a refugee ship. Gino comes to recognize the force of Spiro's confidence, and the potency of his dreams.
L'America is a film in the neorealist tradition in that Amelio's concerns are profoundly political and humanist. The scenario condemns the abuse of power by the avaricious businessmen; back in the 1940s, Gino and Fiore would have been fascists rather than capitalists. Similar to the neorealist classics of Rossellini and De Sica, in L'America Amelio spotlights the individual's thirst for the barest necessities amid a landscape of political, economic, and moral disorder. While he has not made a documentary, his film reflects a heightened sense of reality derived from the experience of life. The film was shot on location and mixes professional actors (Lo Verso and Placido) with non-professionals (di Massarelli, an eighty-year-old retired fisherman-laborer-janitor making his screen debut).
What distances L'America from the earlier neorealist films lies in the questions the film poses. Some are practical to the individual: What will the Albanian refugee who does make it to Italy find there? Is Italy truly a promised land? Or is the quality of life more reflective of the inane programs constantly broadcast on Italian television? These queries are answered by the declaration that it is better to wash dishes in Italy than to starve in Albania. In Italy, the film flatly states, young men only die in car accidents. But L'America poses other questions that are more elusive, and more universal: Have Albanians (or, for that matter, Romanians, East Germans, or Poles) found freedom, after decades under communist rule? Or, has a new kind of tyranny, that of capitalism and greed, replaced the old?
Finally, in L'America Amelio touchingly captures the feeling of what it must be like to be a refugee. His is a story of the dreams and aspirations of people who, in reality, are so downtrodden that they have no logical reason to latch onto hope. It is Amelio's contention that, in the end, all the powerless have to cling to are their dreams. Even if they are irreversibly unrealistic, as is the case with Spiro, dreams still must be grasped onto because they are all that will help sustain life.