Told at different times and through intriguing character encounters, Italian Studies never lead to much and remain an empty shell.
Lost and confused in the midst of bustling pre-pandemic New York City, Vanessa Kirby walks the streets in a daze in Adam Leon’s Italian studies, an immersive, controlled film, strangely devoid of feeling. Leon, the latest of which is his third feature film after Tramps and give me the booty, makes good use of the crowded streets to further isolate the protagonist of Kirby, who is both wild-eyed and strangely calm. Told at different times and in intriguing character meetings, Italian studies never leads to much and remains an empty shell.
The film opens in London, with writer Alina Reynolds attending a music session alongside her husband (David Ajala, whose talents are completely wasted here). When she goes out to smoke, she takes a cigarette from a woman who remembers meeting her when Alina was in New York. However, Alina has no recollection of the events brought up by the young woman and is confused about it all before Leon brings the audience back to this time. Alina takes her dog to the store and leaves it behind, forgetting who she is and why she is there as she begins to wander the streets looking for something and nothing, an amnesiac with no sense of direction. When she crosses paths with Simon (Simon Brickner), everything changes as she now has someone to talk to, convincing him that she has to interview other teenagers for her next novel.
Leon captures the atmosphere of New York City, the constant movement of people going from place to place, usually in a hurry. Faces blur as Alina gets lost among them, with no clear path and no reason given as to why she suddenly suffers a complete blackout regarding her identity. While what Alina does is intriguing, especially as the film opens up about her feelings and the teens she interviews speak candidly about theirs, Italian studies gets caught up in conveying the panicked, terrible and uncertain emotions Alina faces without ever really building towards anything substantial.
To that end, the film is as aimless and struggles to find its identity as Alina. After all, there is little to be gleaned from following Kirby’s character around town. Alina is stunned and confused, but mostly has no idea who she is, an element of the film that could be quite fascinating if it had been explored further. Could she have forged a new identity and started from scratch? Would all the stresses in her life go away if she never got her memory back? There was a lot of potential to go deeper, but Leon chose to stay at the surface level.
Italian studies conjures up a cacophony of noise, lives lived, and there is certainly something disconcerting about Alina being disconnected from hers. Sadly, the film never goes beyond its initial premises, and there’s no explanation as to why she suddenly doesn’t remember anything from her life. And while Kirby gives a great performance, portraying Alina with the right amount of hazy confusion, hollow unconsciousness, and abrupt pullback, character development ultimately falls short due to the thin script. There’s also the matter of Alina’s relationship with Simon, which is sweet at first before it gets deeply uncomfortable.
Leon imbues the film with a sense of uncertain dread, but he doesn’t get the story or its protagonist anywhere worth it. It’s as if the tale was crafted specifically to capture the feeling of being lost in the city and what it might do to someone, but there is very little exploration of Alina’s interiority for that it is satisfactory. Alina wanders wide-eyed and directionless in a film that also lacks meaning.
Next: Interview with Vanessa Kirby: Pieces of a Woman
Italian studies had its North American premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Festival on June 12. The film lasts 79 minutes and is not yet rated.
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