An eccentric 20-something tries to make friends in Amanda, a first feature for Italian writer-director Carolina Cavalli. Premiering in Venice’s Horizons Extra section, it’s a comical, stylized character portrait with a strong central turn from Benedetta Porcaroli.
Her titular character is stubborn, abrupt to the point of rudeness but also witty and weirdly fascinating — qualities that only her family and their housekeeper get to see. Having moved from Paris to Italy, Amanda knows no one of her own age, and suffers from social awkwardness in her bid to connect with them.
There’s a tragicomic flavor to the scenes where she goes to techno raves in huge warehouses, hanging out by the toilets, pretending to wait for a friend, and fixating on a guy who may or may not be a drug dealer. Another tactic involves going onto online video forums, where she discovers men aren’t there for exactly the same reasons. It may seem unlikely that a pretty young woman can’t make friends in a new town, but there is an air of authenticity to this scenario, helped by Porcaroli’s performance as the decidedly unusual Amanda.
The mood shifts when Amanda rediscovers a childhood friend, Rebecca (Galatea Bellugi), who appears to be agoraphobic, shutting herself in her bedroom while her despairing mother, Viola, prunes the garden and orders enormous cakes. Portrayed by Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Viola is an even more curious character than her daughter, but we don’t really get to know either well — they remain darkly comical figures who enable Amanda to demonstrate her determination and whimsical nature with full force.
The most interesting relationship is with Amanda’s sister Marina (Margherita Maccapani Missoni) who is visibly vexed by what she sees as her spoiled younger sister. Amanda also has an amusing bond with her young niece, arguably the funniest character in the film, who steals every scene she’s in, whether she’s talking about her long-distance boyfriend or her admiration for Jesus.
There’s an aimless quality to the film Amanda that suits its central character, but it does invite more exploration of other characters than it delivers. At its best, it recalls the work of Miranda July or Noah Baumbach — Frances Ha being an obvious comparison — but sometimes it feels willfully quirky for the sake of it, such as when Amanda’s mother Sofia (Monica Nappo) gets up and dances weirdly and awkwardly for no reason. Fans of the directors mentioned should definitely check it out, though, and it’s great to see this genre in Italian cinema. Carolina Cavalli is certainly one to watch.
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