Alina Reynolds (Kirby) can’t tell if she’s in a crisis or just confused. She can’t tell if she remembers the world around her and the strangers she finds there, or if she just imagines them. They may be memories, or characters from the short story book that launched her career, or cores from the novel that she is just starting to write in her head. Instead of a linear narrative, Alina’s hazy journey down the rabbit hole and back is largely maintained by the vague sense that self-identity is shaped by the people we meet and the places we meet them. let’s meet. From the negative image of this idea emerges a question that many of us have been asking ourselves since the end of “Italian studies”: is it possible to be someone isolated?
While Leon’s previous stories in New York City – particularly the aerial punch from “Gimme the Loot” and “Tramps” – paved the way for the street-level reality that founds his latest film, none of his works previous on the plot did predict something this crazy or elusive. We first meet Alina in a London recording studio where she radiates without a word the confidence of a young and beautiful person in full control of herself. She knows who she is. With that in mind, it’s easy to appreciate her confusion when a teenage girl walks up to her and insists they know each other – that they spent a summer with a group of kids in New York City. She is sure of it. How can Alina not remember it?
This question is left unanswered (this is not a movie where someone’s memory loss is explained by a trip to the emergency room and some curious MRI scans), but “Italian Studies” goes back in time to show us when the amnesia has started. We see Alina walk into a Chelsea hardware store one afternoon, and then… well, that’s really all there is to it. She simply forgets herself. Her mind is etched in white, much to the chagrin of the little dog she leaves tethered in the street outside.
From there, the film watches Kirby (with the help of Brett Jutkiewicz’s long lenses, hordes of oblivious extras, and a seemingly generative ambient score by the brilliant Nicholas Britell) as she wanders the city like a blinkered alien. who has never been there before. The disturbing mix of fame and uncertainty suggests a less carnivorous version of Scarlett Johansson’s character in “Under the Skin,” though it’s not clear if some of the people Alina meets are “real” or if everyone else is. is made to look like this.
Either way, the film’s teenage cast is so believable that everyone around them prides itself on its verisimilitude; we might even forget that Kirby is famous if not for the fact that Alina has her own fan base. But the most important person she meets knows her only as another lost soul. His name is Simon (Simon Brickner, a major discovery Leon encountered while making a live show called “The All-City Hour Variety Hour”). He’s sort of a toothy cross between Lucas Hedges and Buddy Duress, and he walks up to Alina in a sorry Papaya Dog with an offer to sell his hot dogs and weed when they’re really all. two interested in the company. He’s a non-threatening teenager as desperate as she is, but Alina is so empty and naive that you feel like she would go with him even if it seemed dangerous. They roam the streets talking about bad parents and black hole futures, and at one point we realize it’s winter.
The timeline begins to crumble like one of Dali’s clocks. What season was it when Maya Hawke (blending in perfectly with the less familiar cast) went to this Let’s Eat Grandma gig? Was Alina there to be dazzled by singer-songwriter Annabel Hoffman, or was it something she only saw through the eyes of one of her characters? Are we back in the New York of “Kids” or is this movie too warm, too encouraging, too “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” for that? It’s easy enough to understand that the interview scenes where Leon’s young actors discuss their hopes and dreams directly into the camera are somehow unreal – visions from within Alina’s creative process. But they spill over into the rest of the film in ways that seem deliberately hard to follow.
“Italian Studies” is not a puzzle to be solved nor a wake that stands up to interpretation at every turn, although Leon’s catch-as-catch-can approach requires some confusion in order to let your brain go. logic off the hook. If movies teach you to watch them, this one asks viewers to let go and make their own connections. Sometimes, especially in the second half when the mutual need between Alina and Simon comes to an unexpected boil, you can feel Leon self-sabotaging his new film in an effort not to fall back into old ways; you can feel him making “Italian studies” more opaque than it should be so that he doesn’t get distracted by the same kind of unbalanced romance that he already knows so well.
This is a film about an artist who forgets herself, made by an artist trying to do the same, and with the help of an actress looking for an anchor of truth to hold on to. when the tides of fame threaten to pull her out to sea. These agendas don’t always serve well or significantly align with the self-discovery that Leon’s teenage cast is about to experience. themselves. Despite the haunting pleasures of “Italian studies,” this 70-minute wisp leaves you with the lingering feeling that its means deserved bigger endings – that Leon vibrate with Hong Sang-soo, early Wong Kar-wai and “Taking By Milos Forman. Off ”(among other influences cited in press releases) without ever really coming up with his own thing.
For a young filmmaker who has never struggled to express his own voice, it is both admirable and frustrating to watch him silently listen to new harmonies in a project born out of the opportunity to collaborate with Kirby and the reverse-engineered from there. For her part, Kirby is so magnetic and half-open as a woman who has forgotten everything but her own strength of will that no one will ever guess why Leon agreed to work with her before even having a clue of what it is. ‘they would. together.
And, in its diffuse and semi-engaging way, “Italian Studies” resolves itself as a clear testament to those connections – the feeling that we all borrow from each other. In the movie’s best scene, Alina reads her own book in a library (with the meaning of finding an amnesiac), then, in a moment of pride, signs the inside cover when she’s done. An over-enthusiastic man berates her for it, refusing to back down even after learning that Alina is the perpetrator. “It’s not your book or my book,” he says of the degraded public resource. “This is our book. She doesn’t necessarily like the way the guy talks to her, but she knows her words will end up in anything she writes next.
“Italian Studies” premiered at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution in the United States.