dir: Adam Leon
The fuck was that about…
I can assure you of one thing and one thing only: No Italian is spoken or studied over the course of this frustrating flick. So if you were hoping for some quality Italian talking and such, you’re going to have to look elsewhere.
Italian Studies is something of a perplexing flick, and I think deliberately so. It starts with a scene set in I guess London, where a woman meets some people, they go into a studio, some breathy singers sing some dreampop-y songs, and then she bums a ciggie off of a girl.
The girl asks if the older woman remembers her from New York, from hanging out with some other people, including someone called Simon. Who? Who the fuck is Simon?
But then she says “that must be when I lost my dog.”
It then cuts to New York, presumably to the recent past, as a woman walks her dog to a small hardware store, ties her dog up outside, looks around the store for a while, then wanders off without the dog.
She doesn’t remember the dog, but then, she doesn’t remember who she is or where she’s meant to be.
So a lot of this flick is watching this actor, being Vanessa Kirby, walk around New York. If you like Vanessa Kirby, who you may remember from such films as one of them Fast & Furious flicks, or Pieces of a Woman, the harrowing home-birth-gone-wrong Netflix flick, or from when she played the perpetually resentful and envious Princess Margaret in The Crown, then you might enjoy following her around for an hour and twenty minutes.
I think she’s a fine actor, with my favourite thing I’ve seen her in being a performance of A Streetcar Named Desire filmed at the National Theatre that was recorded and on Youtube for a while during the lockdowns. She played Stella to Gillian Anderson’s Blanche DuBois, and they were all great.
This isn’t as great, but it’s okay. I don’t mind watching flicks where people wander around having mini adventures, especially when they’re low-key but jagged, but not life and death, because it reminds me of the past, when I too walked around cities during the day or night.
That was before all that unpleasantness…
I realise what a hard sell this flick would be, but thankfully I don’t have to convince anyone to see it. I enjoyed it but then I enjoy a lot of things, and by “enjoy” I mean I can sit through almost anything (except Cats, still haven’t been able to manage it). That doesn’t mean I enjoy everything I watch. Far from it. The person I watched this with absolutely hated it and thought it was a waste of time, and specifically hated the elements of the film that I enjoyed the most.
That’s okay. It’s a big wide world where people can enjoy or not whatever the fuck they want, or not.
This wandering woman changes clothes a few times (but it doesn’t mean anything), tries to convince a guy to give her a free ramen meal, gets accosted by some Hasidic chaps who I think are asking whether she’s Jewish or not in case she can take some money out of an ATM for them so close to the Sabbath (but it doesn’t play a part in the story), yells at random people, ignores some fireworks, sees some ambulances and cop cars, chats with some teenager in a hot dog shop about hot dogs, shoplifts some food, hangs a slash down an alley.
It’s…it’s thrilling stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree. Sounds compelling. Edge of your seat type stuff. She is a stranger to herself, but she doesn’t seem too fussed about it, definitely not scared about her predicament, or whether there’s some place she has to be, or anyone that depends on her.
Amnesia is usually depicted as something scary in movies, or is relevant to the plot in crucial ways. It drives a plot where someone desperate to know who they are and why they lost their memory, probably starts killing a bunch of henchmen until the big bad boss at the end explains their predicament.
The fact that she doesn’t remember who she is doesn’t even seem to matter that much within her own story, if in fact she even has one.
The hotdog teenager she meets uses a library to stash his meagre supply of dope in, and it is in the library where she “finds” herself in the pages of a book. A random person on the street seems to recognise her, and tells her how wonderful her book called Italian Studies was, being a collection of her short stories.
So maybe this wandering woman is called Alina Reynolds. She finds her book, which implies, if a library still has a copy of it, that she is staggeringly successful as an author, and proceeds to read it with a strange amount of pride.
Many of the people, mostly teenagers, that she meets seem to be pretty much from the pages of her stories. She tells people about these stories which she doesn’t remember writing, as if she is playing a role, as if she is pretending to be this author who wrote these stories, and I guess she is.
Aren’t we all just playing roles? *cue extreme eyeroll*
The teenagers themselves are not otherwise recognisable as actors, and in these strange vignettes where it sounds like they’re being interviewed, they give candid or what feel like “real” responses to Vanessa Kirby’s questions about love or things they’re worried about, and those scenes are pretty touching, far more touching than the rest of the scenes in the film.
One person out of that group of teens, I’m pretty sure, only plays a teen on television, being the great offspring of Ethan Hawke and Uma Therman, being Maya Hawke, best known for playing Robyn on Stranger Things. If she uttered a single line of dialogue here, I didn’t hear it.
Why is she in this flick? Why is she wearing the same clothes as the wandering woman? Why is there a story about her in the short story collection? Why is anyone in this flick… I can’t answer that question. I can’t imagine she was paid much. This really seems like something made for very little on the fly with a handheld camera and a bunch of memory cards.
As for what it all means, I mean, I don’t have a clue. The character Kirby plays is… not that interesting a character, whether she remembers who she is or not. She’s faking her way through social situations, but isn’t that what most humans are doing? Don’t we all just approximate the kinds of behaviours and verbal communications that are expected of us in given situations?
Some are just better at it than others. She’s intriguing, somewhat, but I didn’t get much of a feeling that there was much going on behind the character’s eyes. And the rest of the people in the world that surround her pretty much don’t care. They’ve got their own stuff going on.
The only scene that gave me a laugh was when she’s been drinking with these clearly not flush with cash teens at some bar, and the bill comes, and after having convinced them that she’s a big deal author down at the cracker factory (as far as adulting is concerned), they’re the ones stuck with the bill, which they have to somehow cover with their minimum-wage pocket money.
When the story comes to the “present”, whatever that present is, I was still a bit mystified as to whether she even was this person she convinced herself she was, because the character seems so thinly drawn. A fiction within a fiction perhaps?
Who knows, but more importantly, who really cares. It does have a kind of spontaneous feeling charm to it, like a make it up as you go kind of endeavour. There’s got to be space within cinema for that.
Italian Studies. A mildly interesting diversion that’s not even really about identity.
6 reasons to watch Vanessa Kirby wandering around New York out of 10
“You’re obviously special.”
“Because you came with me, and that’s an obvious violation of social norms.” - Italian Studies