Memories and Fiction
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
“I had the ambition to do this road movie about grief which is more or less a universal story about a man losing his mother and the relationship between mothers and children,” says French director Mathieu Demy.
But it’s more than that.
Upon learning of his mother’s death, a French guy with a tattoo saying Americano on his arm returns to Los Angeles where he was born.
While trying to uncover his past, he goes down to Tijuana in search of a dancer in a club called Americano.
And the title of this French independent film is, well, “Americano.”
Here we have Martin, a man attempting to figure out a childhood for which he has little memory. An old neighbor still lives around the corner from his mother’s apartment. This writer, now white haired and typing out his autobiography on a computer rather than a typewriter, shares a photograph of a girl named Lola who was his mother’s friend.
Martin had planned on selling the apartment, only to find that his mother left it to this Lola in her will. So he drives off to Tijuana in his friend’s red Mustang in search of Lola – and to solve a mystery.
Did his mother really love him?
But the woman he finds refuses to help, saying she doesn’t live in the past. So how does he reconcile his memories, this beautiful dancer who strips while singing about “America,” and his grief over the mother who allowed his French father to take him away from her?
If you want to find out, “Americano” is playing this week at the Tropic Cinema.
The cast is fascinating – mostly children of famous film personalities.
Director Mathieu Demy takes the lead role of Martin for himself. Demy’s mother was experimental film director Agnès Varda. Starting out as a child star in his mother’s films, his work as an actor has ranged from romantic comedy to drama. But this is his directorial debut.
“I wanted to make a film about a personal subject,” he says, “but to make it a fiction.”
The girlfriend that Martin leaves behind in Paris is played by Chiara Mastroianni, daughter of Catherine Deneuve and Marcello Mastroianni. Her film career includes such films as “Prêt-à-Porter,” “Making Plans for Lena,” and “The Beloved.”
When Martin arrives in L.A., he’s met by an old family friend, played by none other than a gaunt Geraldine Chaplin. The daughter of silent star Charlie Chaplin, she has been a fixture in such epic movies as “Dr. Zhivago,” “Nashville,” and “The Age of Innocence.”
The dancer in Mexico who may hold the key to his past is played by Salma Hayek. The Mexican-American actress was nominated for an Oscar for her starring turn in “Frida.” She has appeared in such disparate fare as “From Dusk to Dawn,” “Spy Kids 3D,” “Grown Ups,” and as a voice in “Puss and Boots.” She can currently be seen in Oliver Stone’s “Savages.”
“Something is not very clear about her identity,” Demy says of Hayek’s character. She professes to have a bad memory. But as Martin tries to talk with her, he continues to recall flashes from his childhood.
These memory sequences are actually real-life footage of 8-year-old Mathieu Demy, scenes extracted from one of his mother’s early films, a 1981 drama called “Documenteur.”
“I thought it was interesting to link my work with the films that have been important for me in my childhood,” he says. “And link this film to my own history.”
What did his mother think of this approach? “I think she thought it was interesting that I incorporated some parts of her films because this is what she has done with her own life. She decided to put her children in her films and she decided to have this very tight relationship between family and fiction. She had to be able to relate to my point of view which is identical.”
Does “Americano” follow up on his mother’s film? “It’s not really the sequel of the movie because it’s another point of view,” says Demy, “but it’s more the sequel of a character. I thought it was interesting to take this character and make him grow up. See what would happen to him 30 years later.”
In addition to directing and starring in “Americano,” Mathieu Demy wrote it too. “My mother’s first reaction was to be surprised that she would die on page two. She understood of course it was part of the fiction.”
He explains, “It’s the story of a man who looses his mother. This character is going to make a journey, which is both an interior journey on his childhood memories and putting back the pieces of his life after this crisis of the death of his mother, and an actual journey. He’s going to try to go on the track of a Mexican woman that his mother used to know.
“So basically it’s a road movie about a man growing up and trying to understand his life. I wanted the journey of the character to be more surprising as he runs away. He does everything wrong, but in the end it turns out to be the right way for him.”