Vanessa Kirby is fascinating to see and follow in writer / director Adam Leon‘s “Italian studies“, An intentionally blurry but compelling overview of New York City and its young minds. The Oscar nominee of “Parts of a woman“Uses her celebrity presence among normal New Yorkers for something reserved”Under the skin“As she wades through this crowded society with a blank slate perspective that forces us to see everything with the same new lens. “Italian Studies” is an impressive blend of frank storytelling and atmospheric filmmaking, with an overall confidence from Leon and Kirby that is more pronounced than the script’s slippery nature.
READ MORE: 2021 Tribeca Film Festival Preview: 15 Must-See Movies & More
Alina Reynolds (Kirby) is the author of the prestigious collection of short stories that gives Leon’s film its title. But due to amnesia, Alina cannot remember writing the book. She also doesn’t remember her own name or how to become a New Yorker. She really is an alien walking and intersecting these streets, and Leon balances the audience with a few questionable moments nudging their base claim before stepping back (like when Alina thinks she can just get ramen noodles from the store , without paying). But NYC remains Alina’s big question, especially since she embodies curiosity herself and the film asks you not to take this character so literally. Many other directors may be trying to come up with an ingenious way for Alina’s amnesia to occur, especially with the city as your playground. There is no such passage in Leon’s script that the narrative largely avoids in order to navigate her labyrinthine experience.
READ MORE: Summer 2021 Preview: Over 50 Movies to Watch
Alina finds some leaders in this new alien world with a group of teenagers who are quick to accept her. First she meets Simon (Simon Brickner) at Chelsea Papaya, a hot dog shop; Your next stop is shortly afterwards at the library where Simon hides his grass. Then she joins his group of friends, and her time with them seems anthropological but real. The teens are creative, fearful, and quirky, especially when she asks them questions about how they think – Matt (Fred Hechinger, “The woman in the window“Has a charming monologue about how some people see pieces of bread stacked together like a bun. In other moments Alina is impressed by Annika’s musical talent (Annika Wahlstein) and the power of her singing voice. “Italian Studies” sporadically cuts off small interviews between Alina and the various young adults who sit noticeably away from the concrete environment in front of green plants and often tell details about things they are only just discovering: love, popularity, their parents. The teenagers (some of them with previous acting roles, some not) give Leon’s story the lifestyle it desires, even before he uses overtly documentary style.
READ MORE: The 100 Most Anticipated Movies of 2021
In the world of “Italian Studies” it makes sense why they would accept Alina even if her presence in their group violates “social norms” (according to Simon). These teens recognize the novelty in Alina’s face and Kirby’s impressive performance is not so delicate as it is youthful. Especially in sections that they capture in close-up shots, watch them navigate the subway or walk around shops, she comes across as a determined child discovering how things work. At the same time, there is a visible shyness that reads as all too human but isn’t seen often in adult performances.
READ MORE: The Movies That Changed My Life: “Tramps” Director Adam Leon
As the third film by Leon, “Italian Studies” shows Leon’s growth as a filmmaker, who has established himself as an authorship thanks to his still perfect record. This time he is making a film about the soul of his last two Cannes favorites.give me the booty” and then “Tramp“, The latter published on Netflix. The pace is noticeably different here, as these two were more like high-stakes sprints around town on the spot, sometimes without the young characters wearing shoes or knowing exactly where they were going to end up. “Italian Studies” has a different pace, but Leon sees this world very similarly. He loves these New Yorkers as subjects for close-ups that ask us to study the children’s faces, just as if they are hundreds of meters away, taken in his typical shots with long lenses that are sometimes photo-bombed by trains. Sometimes the distant camera is even ahead of the character it wants to film, and those raw moments remind you of how vivid history can be without trying to be tidy.
“Italian Studies” is a fascinating reflection of Leon: Like Alina, Leon is interested, if not revered, in the way young people think. The scenes in which Alina hangs out with them or interviews them have a notable autobiographical element, to whatever extent that is intended. (To create even more meta levels, Maya Hawke briefly seen as a woman named Erin who is actually a character from the book “Italian Studies” who does what Alina does now and even dresses like her) The teenagers are the emotional core of the story, and what Alina is like Leon wants to listen to them and give them space.
Thanks to the composer, “Italian Studies” has a unique texture overall Nicholas Britell, who has been working with Leon since “Gimme the Loot”. (As you may know, Britell has projects like “Moonlight“,”The subway“,”Succession“and more). Britell’s fuzzy synthesizers and selected percussion create a cavernous soundscape that turns New York City into a huge art museum where Alina gets lost.
What happened to Alina doesn’t matter, and “Italian Studies” can be a little unrewarded when viewed like a jigsaw puzzle with clues scattered in the out-of-chronological elaboration (attributed Sara Shaw, Erin Dewitt, Kristan Sprague, and Betsy Kagan). It’s much more effective on his state of mind, one where a director re-examines what fascinates him. Leon’s affection for the city and its people makes the most sense. [B+]
Follow all of our coverage of the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival here.