The cultural identities of two Italians get irrevocably blurred in filmmaker Gianni Amelio's thought-provoking Lamerica, which was honored with several European film awards in 1994. Contrary to the title, the film has little to do with the United States, except as a metaphor. Rather, it explores the perversely symbiotic relationship between Italy and post-communist Albania, where the squalid conditions and prevailing politics cause two Italians, of different generations and vastly different backgrounds, to become homogenized into the masses of penniless Albanians. One is a political prisoner who hasn't had his moorings in 40 years; the other is a young man recently swallowed into anonymity by the loss of his paperwork and the betrayal of his former employers, who had sought to exploit the Albanians for business profit. Equal parts a comeuppance and a redemption, their journey brings the harsh realities they had ignored/repressed into fuller focus. Lamerica has quite a lot to recommend it, but tops on that list are actors Enrico Lo Verso and Carmelo Di Mazzarelli, who prove uniquely capable of illustrating the fullness of a character arc, each ending up in a place wholly different from where they started. Their performances contribute to making the movie feel optimistic and life-affirming, even as it is characterized from start to finish by treachery, sorrow, and disorientation. Similarly, Lamerica rewards a viewer who sticks with it during a slow opening act, in which it seems a little bogged down on a specific moment of European political tension that may not resonate with all audiences. It's not too long a wait for the central story of human struggle and reluctant bonding to emerge, and Lamerica is well worth that wait.
by Derek Armstrong review