In the beginning of Americano, Mathieu Demy (also the writer and director) plays Martin so dispassionately, one is immediately interested in seeing how his character’s nature will evolve over the course of the film. In the first scene, he is dispassionately making love, then he responds dispassionately to news that his mother is dead, and then he heads to America (dispassionately) to sell her house and get her final things in order. One soon realizes that this is the depth of Demy’s arc—he is not unbearably cold or distant in an attempt to hide Martin’s real passion beneath the surface; he simply cannot move past or complicate his initial performance of detachment. As a result, a film with a compelling story (though far too dependent on a single character) fails to move its audience, even as its own scenes somehow fail to move their protagonist.
Americano’s plot is reminiscent of 2010’s Incendies, where a child follows a mysterious chain of clues in search of the truth about a deceased mother. Martin has lived in France his whole life, save a few years he spent with his mother in California. When his girlfriend, Claire (played by Chiara Mastroianni), inquires about this period of time, Martin claims to have no recollection of these memories. but regards his mother bitterly as he reluctantly returns to America to carry out her last wishes. Unlike Incendies, the mystery is one-dimensional (he is simply looking for “Lola,” the friend to whom his mother has willed her apartment), and after all his searching through the strip clubs of Tijuana (because that’s where he ends up), the pay-off and conclusion of the film is weak and unremarkable.
Salma Hayek plays a stripper at club Americano, who may or may not be the “Lola” Martin seeks. Hayek seems determined to match Demy’s listless performance for the most part, and—although no real romance is meant to develop between the two—a bit more chemistry would not have hurt the story.
In spite of its many pitfalls, Americano is successful in its careful juxtaposition of reality with memory, where Martin’s fractured recollections of his early years in America flow almost seamlessly into the present-day storyline. The audience—as much as the protagonist—is unclear as to whether or not he truly has a bad memory, or if he has deliberately chosen to forget certain things. He has also been heavily influenced by the rantings of an embittered single father, played quite well by Jean-Pierre Mocky.
While some mysteries are solved by the end of Americano, others (about Martin’s mother, especially) linger, and no real revelations seem pending. Martin learns that his mother was as loving as she was distracted and neglectful (perhaps a bit of a cliché, then, for single mothers). While it is interesting that he “learns” all this through various occurrences that trigger his own memories, Demy’s portrayal of the character makes him difficult to relate to even as he embarks on a near-universally relatable quest to understand his mother. As a writer, Mathieu Demy has created some solid material in Americano. It’s just too bad that Demy the director and Demy the actor aren’t as up to the task.
Director: Mathieu Demy
Writer: Mathieu Demy
Starring: Mathieu Demy, Salma Hayek, Chiara Mastroianni
Release Date: June 15, 2012