The directorial debut of Mathieu Demy was one keenly anticipated by this viewer, and the film didn’t disappoint. Granted, there are a number of issues with the film, but ultimately Americano is such a keen love letter to a period of French cinema that I hold dearly that it was nigh on impossible not to be swept up by it.
Essentially a sequel to Agnès Varda’s 1981 film Documenteur, with Mathieu Demy being the son of Varda and the star of that particular film, Americano is ultimately an homage to its directors film royalty progenitors. Demy is from something of a dynasty you see, with his father being the veritable Jacques Demy. In his own directorial offering Demy Jr. channels his fathers taste for the aesthetics and tone of traditional Hollywood tales with his mothers experimental flair. It’s an effective combination, and one that, significantly, feels fresh and compelling in its own right.
The story of Americano might be read as an inverted biographical tale. In the wake of the death of his mother, Martin, a young French man, is forced to revisit the brief time he spent growing up in Los Angeles, before he was sent to live with his father in Paris. Whilst in Los Angeles Martin decides to seek out a young girl that he grew up playing with, and who had subsequently become very close to his mother, in an attempt to understand his own relationship with the deceased.
The film briefly incorporates footage from Varda’s earlier film with Demy’s own, which is largely taken from a handheld perspective and contrasts nicely with its inspiration. Similarly, Demy recycles Georges Delarue’s beautiful score to echo within his own tale. The ambition of Demy shines through, no less in the manner in which he chose to shoot on three different continents for his debut behind the camera. The neon electronic lights of Mexico contrast wonderfully with the busy interiors of Parisian apartments and the open roads of Los Angeles, which, incidentally, are brought to the screen in a series of very long takes, reinforcing not only the notion of the importance of the motor car in LA, but the differences between the worlds in which Martin’s journey takes place (notably one of the first events that happens when Martin crosses the border to Mexico is that his car is stolen). Coming across like the archetypical cinematic journey in to Hell, Demy’s film and character unfold together, with the latter delving further and further in to areas unknown, the former, the film form itself, using this as a platform by which to explore grief and mortality.